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Your opinion: Jan. 13, 2016

Expand Medicaid for a better Georgia
In the new state legislative session, the fate of Medicaid expansion is unclear. Thirty-one states, including D.C., have expanded Medicaid — but Georgia isn’t one of them. Georgia has the fourth highest uninsured rate in the country. Each year that we don’t expand Medicaid, billions of federal dollars in statewide aid go unclaimed, and about 300,000 Georgians stuck in the Medicaid coverage gap and about 178,000 others who can’t afford their premiums are left uninsured and uncertain about how to afford quality healthcare.
This is an issue that hits particularly close to home. Medicaid expansion has the potential to be an economic boon to Americus and the surrounding areas. Furthermore, more than half of the residents of Chattahoochee, Marion, Stewart and Sumter counties would be covered, in addition to half of all Georgia’s veterans. With the coverage expansion, thousands of Georgians would no longer have to worry about how to pay for a checkup at the doctor’s office.
We cannot afford to wait any longer. As the Albany Herald reported this past fall, there is a growing health care crisis in rural Georgia and across the rural South. Failure to expand Medicaid has already led to hospital closures across the state. After the nearby Stewart-Webster Hospital closed, EMS drivers of the two ambulances in the county reported 90-mile round trips, which means patients who experience life threatening conditions like a heart attack or stroke may not make it to the hospital in time to receive critical, timely care. Some are coming to Americus for service, missing options closer to home.
Accessibility and affordability to quality healthcare shouldn’t be a privilege for the few; it should be a guarantee for all. It is critical that our state legislators, along with Governor Deal, put aside partisan differences and work together to expand Medicaid. Let’s do it for a better Georgia.
Jason Berggren
Americus