State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, had high praise for the Medicaid waiver plan released by Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday.

“We’re trying to help people get out of poverty. Nobody else has done what Georgia’s done,” the Rome Republican said.

Kemp’s plan would expand Medicaid to the state’s poorest able-bodied adults, on the condition that they work, volunteer, receive job training or attend school.

Under Kemp’s proposal, which is more limited than other states, uninsured adults in Georgia who make no more than the federal poverty level would qualify for Medicaid assistance if they spent at least 80 hours a month working, volunteering, training or studying. They would also have to pay monthly premiums.

The federal poverty level is just under $12,500 for an individual.

Hufstetler, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said it’s expected to cost less than a straight Medicaid expansion to 138% of the poverty level – but it offers opportunities.

“If you have a low-paying job we’ll cover your healthcare, but if you want to get this job training so you can get a better job, we’ll cover that too,” he said.

Most recipients would have to make a co-payment of $11 a month, Hufstetler noted.

The governor’s office called the approach a “conservative reform” that reflects the state’s values as a place that “honors work” and “champions individual responsibility.”

It would require approval from the Trump administration.

“This is not a free handout. Hardworking Georgians who qualify will have skin in the game,” the governor said. “It is a path forward toward higher earnings, better opportunities and a healthier future.”

The Republican governor is pressing ahead despite legal challenges in other states.

In March, a U.S. judge blocked work requirements in Arkansas and Kentucky, ruling the measures undermined the Medicaid program’s mission of providing health care for the needy. A federal appeals court sharply questioned the work requirements during a hearing on the case last month.

The Trump administration has allowed states to impose work or other requirements, but critics say many adults eligible for Medicaid face barriers to entering the workforce, including medical conditions and caretaking responsibilities.

Requiring them to report their employment is not an effective way to connect them to work or volunteer opportunities and imposes additional burdens on them and state administrators, according to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.

Supporters argue that working can improve people’s health, and job requirements push them toward better-paying employment that can provide an even greater health benefit. Nearly 20 states are in various stages of trying to implement work requirements.

“The feeling is that we can move people up by having this in there. People who are disabled have a different way to qualify for Medicaid,” Hufstetler said.

Medicaid is a federal-state program that covers about 70 million people, from many newborns to severely disabled people and elderly nursing home residents. Under the Affordable Care Act, states gained the option of expanding the program to low-income adults who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, with the federal government picking up 90 percent of the cost. More than 10 million people have gained coverage that way.

Georgia is one of 14 states that have not fully expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Kemp’s office said full expansion would cost Georgia taxpayers more than $1.5 billion in the first five years.

Kemp’s office plans to seek a 90% match from the federal government for its more limited expansion. That would make the cost to the state $10 million in the program’s first year; otherwise, it would be $36 million.

Supporters of a full Medicaid expansion under the ACA estimated it would cover roughly 500,000 Georgia residents. The governor’s office envisions this expansion will cover more than 52,000 people in its fifth year.

Taifa Butler, executive director of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, said Kemp’s plan doesn’t cover enough people. The GBPI favors full Medicaid expansion.

“We are missing the mark, and the math just doesn’t add up at the end of the day,” she said.

Public hearing set for Rome

The announcement came days after Kemp unveiled a separate proposal to reduce premiums for Georgia residents who buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, while giving the state control of billions of dollars in ACA subsidies.

That, too, requires Trump administration approval, along with a 30-day public comment period.

Rome is one of six sites where state officials will accept oral comments. The session is scheduled for 1 p.m. Nov. 21 at The Well of West Rome Baptist Church, 914 Shorter Ave.

Earlier hearings are slated for Savannah, Macon, Bainbridge and Gainesville. The final session is in Kennesaw, at 2 p.m. Nov. 22, in the North Cobb Regional Library, 3535 Old 41 Highway.

Anyone with a disability that requires special accommodations should notify Matthew Krull at Matthew.Krull@dch.ga.gov or 404-651-5016 at least 24 hours before the session they plan to attend.

Written comments may be submitted through Dec. 3 online at Medicaid.Georgia.Gov/patientsfirst or by mail to Ryan Loke, c/o The Office of the Governor, 206 Washington St., Suite 115, State Capitol, Atlanta, Ga. 30334.

Night editor Diane Wagner contributed to this report.

Recommended for you