Forum Examines Gov. Deal's Decision Against Medicaid Expansion and Potential Alternatives

Feb 15, 2013

A recent Carter Center forum examined how the Affordable Care Act will affect Georgia’s mental health and substance abuse services. Speakers examined what Governor Deal’s decision not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act will mean and alternative options.

Those speaking at the forum say whatever happens with Medicaid expansion is important, because approximately 650,000 Georgians lack insurance. Cindy Zeldin with Georgians for a Healthy Future says 1 in 6 low-income and uninsured adults have a severe mental illness and many more have mild or moderate mental health challenges. Without expansion, Zeldin says many will continue to fall through the cracks.

“What that means is that we would forgo about $40 billion dollars in federal money over 10 years to pump into our healthcare system and that people remained uninsured and many would have considerable unmet need in respect to mental health services.”

A Healthcare Georgia Foundation report shows potential Medicaid expansion could mean significant economic activity for the state. That’s why Foundation president Gary D. Nelson says the state should think twice.

“Some have said that does not mean it’s the right thing to do. But I submit to you based upon the report we issued, 70,000 jobs, more than half of which are healthcare related; increased tax revenues annually, more than $260 million dollars; and $8 billion dollars in new economic activity should cause us to pause and reconsider our options.”

But Ron Bachman, President and CEO of Healthcare Visions, says new state laws and private market solutions can better aid those in need than Medicaid expansion.

He says Medicaid is problematic for doctors and hospitals because of low reimbursement rates.

“Giving people a Medicaid card is not the same as providing mental health care and treatment, so is there a better solution? I think the better solution is to improve access and care in the private market through government exchanges or private exchanges that are developing out there.”

Most speaking at the forum agree there needs to be greater healthcare access for those with mental health or substance abuse issues. Speakers said the best way to bring down cost while providing assistance is to offer good primary care along with treatment. Governor Deal has said he’s against the expansion because it will cost the state $4.5 billion dollars over the next ten years.