Official: Georgia holding off on Medicaid changes

Associated Press Modified: July 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm •  Published: July 13, 2012

ATLANTA (AP) — Following Republican Gov. Nathan Deal's lead, Georgia's community health commissioner said Friday the agency is holding off on an overhaul of the state's Medicaid program because of uncertainty at the federal level.

Commissioner David Cook cited the November presidential election and Congress' ongoing attempts to address the law as factors that could affect how states deal with Medicaid. He said the recent Supreme Court decision upholding much of the federal health care overhaul raises more questions about how the program will operate.

"There are a whole host of questions that are up in the air right now," Cook said. "Frankly, we're going to need a lot more clarity from Washington. It became pretty clear after the Supreme Court decision that the best course of action would be to not pursue a wholesale restructuring."

Cook says the agency is moving forward on several initiatives, including streamlining the administrative process and improving accountability and efficiency in the system.

Last month's Supreme Court ruling preserved most of President Barack Obama's health care law, including its requirement that virtually all Americans carry medical insurance. But the court gave states the option of saying no to a Medicaid expansion expected to provide coverage to more than 15 million people, mainly poor adults who don't have children. Officials in some Republican-led states are already saying they'll opt out.

Deal was noncommittal on whether Georgia would expand its Medicaid program. His administration estimates 620,000 people would join the government-run health plan in 2014 if the state makes such an expansion.

The state's Medicaid program now covers about 1.7 million Georgians. Georgia and the federal government share the cost of the Medicaid program for existing users. The federal government would cover all the costs of the newly eligible recipients for three years. Afterward, the U.S. government would pay for 90 percent of those costs.

Deal has questioned whether Georgia could pay its share of the $4.5 billion cost of expanding the Medicaid program over a decade. Such an expansion would secure $35 billion in federal funding. Georgia is facing a $300 million Medicaid shortfall this fiscal year.

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