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State task force eyes healthcare reform

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Health insurance

As congressional Republicans are trying to pass the American Health Care Act to replace Obamacare, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle wants to prepare Georgia for what comes next.

Cagle has tasked Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and four others to come up with a plan to bolster the healthcare safety net system in light of the changes.

Hufstetler pointed out Thursday that there’s already a relationship with Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who represented Georgia’s 6th Congressional District before his confirmation in February.

“The federal government has talked about giving block grants to states,” Hufstetler said. “The opportunity is certainly there for us to set up a program with Tom Price’s blessings that, if successful, could be a model for the whole nation.”

Also on the task force are Republican Sens. Dean Burke of Bainbridge, Ben Watson of Savannah, Renee Unterman of Buford and Jack Hill of Reidsville.

Their first meeting is today — with Jim Frogue, a consultant formerly with the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Joseph Antos with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Hufstetler said they plan to lunch together, then hold a public meeting at the state Capitol.

“They’re two of the many people we’ll be talking to from all over the country,” he said.

No deadline has been set for a final report. Hufstetler said they’ll be watching and adapting to what Congress does.

The legislation coming out of the two House committees this week reflects only part of the overall plan to reform healthcare. President Donald Trump tweeted that “phase 2 & 3” are coming. And in a letter to the committee chairmen, Price noted that they’re only able to change areas of the Affordable Care Act that can be included in a budget reconciliation bill.

“(P)rocedural rules on this type of legislation prevent inclusion of key policies such as selling insurance across state lines, lowering drug costs for patients, providing additional flexibility in Medicaid for states to manage their programs,” he wrote.

Hufstetler said there’s been a lot of focus on tax credits and deductions, but he believes the preventative care aspect is key to a successful plan.

“We’re not going to see improvements in health or reductions in cost until we get people’s conditions under control,” he said.

The American Health Care Act measures rolled out this week have met with opposition from a variety of sources.

Congressional Democrats say it will strip coverage from the most vulnerable and Republicans in the right-wing Freedom Caucus want a more market-centered approach. A host of organizations, including the AARP, the American Medical Association and the AHA — representing nearly 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, networks and other providers of care — also have expressed concerns.

Hufstetler said he thinks it still needs a lot of work, but all the deliberations won’t necessarily affect the task force’s work.

“If the federal government does the part where they send block grants to the states, we want to be ready to go with a plan,” he said.