Georgia is among a handful of states yet to decide whether to expand its Medicaid program. Although the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of President Obama's health care initiative, states were given the choice of expanding the Medicaid program that serves the elderly, the needy and the forgotten.
The last I heard from Gov. Nathan Deal, he wants to wait until after the November election to decide on expanding the program. If Republican contender Mitt Romney is elected president, the question may be moot because he says he is somehow going to derail what he mockingly calls "Obamacare."
That's some big talk, declaring you are going to roll back a program that has won approval from the nation's highest court. Rest assured that if the question goes before the high court, advocates will be pushing just as hard to see that the program remains intact.
According to The Associated Press, Georgia's present Medicaid program now covers some 1.7 million of the state's 9.8 million people, or almost 20 percent. Expanding the program, Deal has said, would add about 650,000 people to the program. The feds would pay the full costs of those added to the Medicaid rolls for three years and afterward would pay 90 percent of those costs.
I would be willing to bet that each of the estimated 23,000 hospital beds in Georgia has been slept in by a Medicaid patient. I also imagine that the hospitals were glad to get reimbursement from the federal/state program.
Surely no one disputes the notion that Medicaid is an important economic engine that helps keep this state running. Many small hospitals and nursing homes get the lion's share of their annual revenue directly from Medicaid. Those reimbursements put money in the pockets of not only doctors but also many nurses, aides and other health care workers.
If you are not on the Medicaid rolls yourself, rejoice and be happy in it, but also be assured that someone you know is on the list. If you doubt that, take a stroll through the corridors of a nearby nursing home. That's where a majority of the patients are Medicaid beneficiaries.
Most hospitals and nursing homes in Georgia and surrounding states will do almost anything to fill a hospital bed, because usually some program is going to pay for the services rendered. Books are cooked (the legal way) until they look like burned shoe leather. The way patients are categorized can quickly be changed to keep that bed occupied and the care and the cash flowing. To a small, struggling, unappreciated hospital or nursing home, that often means the doors stay open.
Some citizens of this state outlive their financial resources, get deathly ill or disabled and go on Medicaid to pay for their care. A little-known fact is that Medicaid often makes up a portion of its costs by taking and selling citizens' property after they're gone. I know people who have faced that situation, and if you don't, please exit your ivory tower and get a real life.
I think Georgia should think real hard before saying "no" to Medicaid expansion.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at macmarygordongmail.com.