The number of Medicaid patients in Georgia has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading some analysts to call for a full expansion of coverage for the program, which helps low-income families.

Others, however, support the partial Medicaid expansion that Governor Brian Kemp led through the General Assembly two years ago and which received federal approval last year.

The number of Medicaid beneficiaries in Georgia rose by around 338,000 between March 2020 when the pandemic broke out and December, bringing the total number of child, adult and family beneficiaries to around 2,104, according to the State Department of Community Health (DCH). 000 increased.

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According to Laura Harker, senior policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) nonprofit, the surge in Medicaid enrollment underscores how the pandemic is creating economic uncertainty for poor children in Georgia, who make up around two-thirds of the program’s beneficiaries.

“It reflects some of the challenges facing the entire household when a family member loses their income or job, which could result in their qualification or their children qualifying for Medicaid,” said Harker.

Currently, Medicaid coverage is available in Georgia for adults whose income is approximately 35% below the federal poverty line, children in households up to 138% above the poverty line, and low-income older, blind, and disabled adults.

Eligibility is set to change under Kemp’s plan for a partial expansion of Medicaid, which the state estimates covers adults earning up to 100% of the poverty line, or potentially 50,000 additional beneficiaries. In addition, recipients must work, attend school, or volunteer at least 80 hours per month.

The plan was approved by the federal government last October and is to be implemented gradually from July.

Supporters see the plan as a timely tool to help Georgia’s worst-paid residents fight the pandemic, especially if certain jobs in the recovering economy never return or change dramatically.

“[The plan] have been trying to tackle these eligibility-level jobs and find a way out of Medicaid, ”said Chris Denson, director of policy and research at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF). “This pandemic will have long-term economic effects.”

Kemp’s partial expansion plan calls for many critics who want Georgia, along with other states, to fully expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which covers adults up to 138% of the poverty line and could add 500,000 more recipients to the program, according to GBPI estimates.

Full expansion would also increase the federal government’s share of the cost of administering Medicaid in Georgia from around 60% currently to 90%, and significantly reduce the state contributions required, supporters say.

Democratic lawmakers, citing the surge in enrollments, have long again called for a full expansion of Medicaid, a move the Republican-led Georgian legislature avoided in favor of Kemp’s plan for partial expansion.

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“It’s a tax-responsible option [and] It is a morally responsible option, ”said MP Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna. “We are rejecting federal funds because of political partiality and that thwarted the Georgians.”

Federal government cost savings on full expansion could help the state fill gaps in its $ 26 billion budget for areas such as public schools and health care, which saw spending cuts last year due to the pandemic, said Harker of the GBPI.

“We’re missing out on the improved national game,” said Harker. “Other states can use this money to support their budgets in the face of the downturn.”

Critics of this approach argue that Georgia’s costs of running Medicaid would still be too high to manage hundreds of thousands more beneficiaries, even if the federal government tightened the end of the cost-sharing agreement. They prefer to strike a balance between helping the struggling Georgians and being weaned from government support.

“As the number of Medicaid members continues to grow, other government priorities will be pushed aside,” said Denson of the GPPF. “And there is always the possibility that the government will lower that matching rate.”

Republican lawmakers, who have majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, are unlikely to address the issue this year after they passed a law in June that aims to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers to six months after Birth instead of extending to the current two months.

Terry England, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, R-Auburn, argued that Georgia’s spending could increase by hundreds of millions of dollars if it expanded fully, calling it a “political decision” rather than a “budgetary decision” that would require legislation to pass.

“I think we have had a lot of discussions about this over the years,” said England. “Remember, as Medicaid expands, so does government liability.”

Still, Medicaid costs will rise in the coming months once the federal government picks up a temporary larger portion it paid in the wake of the pandemic. Georgia Department of Community Health officials will need an additional $ 201 million to cover rising Medicaid costs in fiscal 2022.

The Kemp office referred to the governor’s proposed budget, which includes an additional $ 329 million for Medicaid through June 2022, plus an additional $ 76 million for agencies to implement the partial expansion plan and other changes to encourage insurance coverage and private insurance competition.

“It is critical that we provide life-saving health care to our most vulnerable Georgians, especially during a pandemic,” said Mallory Blount, Kemp’s press secretary.

“This will reduce Georgians’ reliance on the failed promises of the Affordable Care Act, give low-income Georgians access to affordable care, and increase competition in the private sector to bring more options across the state.”