ATLANTA (AP) - Legislation authorizing Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to pursue a Medicaid waiver was approved by a state House panel Wednesday, potentially giving Georgia more flexibility to use federal funding but also capping who's covered by an expansion.
Georgia is one of 14 states that haven't fully expanded Medicaid under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It called for Medicaid coverage for those making slightly above the federal poverty level.
The bill allows Kemp to pursue waiver options and gives his office latitude in what the waiver ultimately asks. It caps eligibility for any Medicaid expansion to those at or below the federal poverty level, limiting the number of Georgians who could be covered.
Any waiver plan would need to be approved by the federal government.
Republican Sen. Blake Tillery, who is carrying the legislation for Kemp, said it was a "very simple bill ... that could have far reaching effects for health care in Georgia."
Tillery said that many provisions would be looked at, including possible work requirements for beneficiaries and incentives for use of primary care.
Several health care providers testified in favor of the bill Wednesday, saying it would help reduce the number of uninsured Georgians. But some patient advocates said they wished the bill went further by removing the eligibility cap.
Laura Harker, a health policy analyst with Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said the bill should be amended to extend Medicaid benefits fully to levels called for under the ACA.
"Capping the income limit at 100 percent of federal poverty could leave the state paying more while seeing a smaller drop in our state's already high uninsured rate" compared to states that have fully expanded Medicaid, Harker said. She added that she feared the legislation as drafted would "create a new kind of coverage gap."
In addition to the Medicaid waiver, the bill would allow for another waiver seeking to help stabilize prices on Georgia's private insurance markets.
The bill passed the Senate in February, and could soon move to the House floor for a vote.