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This is a hectic season for everyone as we prepare for the holiday season, make progress on our gift list and look forward to festive gatherings with family and friends in the remaining days of 2012. My wish for you and your family is that, amid all the hustle and bustle, you can enjoy a wonderful holiday celebration.

December is also a busy time for members of the Georgia Legislature as we look forward to the 2013 session of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 14. Read the article below for a few of the issues that will be addressed. There is certainly a lot of work to be done between now and then.

Georgia should expand Medicaid under Affordable Care Act

Georgia has the opportunity to cover 690,000 uninsured residents through an expansion of the Medicaid program at a minimal cost to the state.

This is good business and good public policy. Under the Affordable Care Act, Georgia would establish a new category of eligibility for Medicaid to cover low-income adults and families, nearly half of whom are working parents. Without the expansion, Georgians’ taxes would help low-income adults in other states, while our Medicaid program would continue to cover children and people in nursing homes but very few adults.

Under the expansion, Georgia would receive $33 billion from the federal government over the next 10 years but spend only $2.5 billion. State dollars will be spent with or without the expansion to cover additional children as their families discover that their children are already covered by our Medicaid program. This additional spending is just 2.7 to 4.6 percent more than what Georgia would spend on Medicaid over the next decade without the expansion. More importantly, it is less than 1 percent of general fund spending. Right now, health care spending is nearly 20 percent of our state budget.

Low-income families get sick today, whether they have health insurance or not. Georgia taxpayers foot the bills through emergency room visits, low-risk illnesses that become catastrophic and through lost wages. With Medicaid expansion, the federal government would pay most of the bill for the first 10 years. Without Medicaid expansion, the costs would still increase, but Georgians would pay the bill alone.

Like any good business decision, Georgia should accept the federal government’s investment of $33 billion and use those 10 years to build a stronger system to reduce the costs of health care and improve the lives of every Georgia citizen.

Here are some other important state issues that will be part of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus agenda in 2013:

Budget: The state budget must be balanced under our Constitution, yet we face more than $400 million in deficits due to the Medicaid budget and a revenue shortfall totaling $85.5 million through the first five months of the current fiscal year. Gov. Deal has implemented 3 percent cuts across most agencies. Democrats will examine any new spending proposals very carefully to make sure that our taxpayer investments are the right ones. Every dollar we spend should be used to meet core obligations, to leverage federal dollars available and should not benefit special interests.

Health Care Exchanges: While we regret that Georgia decided to forgo the opportunity to create our own Georgia-based system, we are excited that our small businesses will have a chance to shop for cost-effective insurance in 2014 thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Individuals will be eligible for a subsidy to help pay a portion of their health insurance premium. If we want our state to grow, we have to create economic security for our families and our small businesses.

Hospital Bed Tax: Any new tax proposed to solve the short-term funding issue for Medicaid must take into account our long-term obligations. Georgia cannot afford to keep kicking this problem down the road with stop-gap measures. We look forward to learning about the Republican proposals to address the $430 million deficit in Medicaid and the plan to accommodate the additional 159,000 Georgia parents who are currently Medicaid eligible and may join in the next few years due to simplified application processes.

Democratic Initiatives: Georgia House Democrats will continue to push for legislation that meets our core principles.

  • Economic Security - Improve the economic lives of Georgia’s families by creating jobs, helping build small businesses and protecting working families.
  • Educational Opportunity - Provide quality education for Georgia’s kids by supporting students, helping parents and improving schools for the 21st century.
  • Shared Responsibility - Fix government so it works for everyone, protect taxpayer investments and defending local control.