Photo Credit: Blake Aued
Adam Lassila (right) speaks to reporters as state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez (D-Athens) looks on.
For Stacey Abrams, one of the nice things about not having a runoff is that she can sit back, raise money, go on “Late Night with Seth Myers” and generally chill while her two opponents on the other side rip each other to shreds. The downside is, she doesn’t know which one to attack yet.
Well, as the little girl in the taco commercial once said, “Why not both?” The Democratic Party of Georgia sent two Abrams surrogates—state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez (D-Athens) and Athens for Everyone organizer Adam Lassila—to a small rally/news conference in Athens last week to go after Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp for opposing Medicaid expansion.
The event coincided with Abrams releasing a health-care plan that includes expanding Medicaid, continuing to protect people with pre-existing conditions, rural broadband for tele-health (Skyping with a doctor, essentially), rural and para-transit, maternal health care and forgivable loans for health-care professionals who agree to work in rural areas.
“We have an opportunity to vote in an incredible governor. Stacey Abrams believes in Medicaid expansion,” said Gonzalez, who co-sponsored a bill during the most recent legislative session to do exactly that. (It went nowhere in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.)
Gonzalez accused both Cagle and Kemp of fighting for the insurance companies that contribute to their campaigns, but she saved most of her ire for Kemp, who “has picked fights with the nursing union, the pharmacy union, the dentists,” she said.
Nurses pushed back on Kemp’s 2016 plan to replace the head of the state nursing board with the director of the state cosmetology board without consulting the board of nursing. In 2013, the legislature removed the boards that govern pharmacists and dentists from Kemp’s oversight and placed them under the Department of Community Health.
Gov. Nathan Deal was among several conservative governors who refused to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid after the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. That decision has left $3 billion a year on the table—which experts say could have propped up struggling rural hospitals—and created a coverage gap that about 600,000 Georgians who don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid but can’t afford subsidized private insurance fell into. Republicans have occasionally discussed seeking a federal waiver to craft their own health-care program for Georgia, but “that has never been developed into legitimate legislation,” Gonzalez said.
Lassila spoke of Medicaid expansion as a stop-gap measure until a universal “Medicare for all” type of program is established on the federal level.
Lassila said he was hiking in Argentina in 2014 when he fell down a mountain and cracked his head open. He had to visit the hospital a dozen times, and received high-quality care free of charge, he said. In contrast, as an uninsured person in the U.S., he said he would have received emergency treatment only, with no follow-ups, and a $15,000 bill.
“It’s amazing to me in Georgia as a citizen of this state, I got much better care in a country that is much poorer than us that I’m not even from,” he said. “Why do Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp think people don’t deserve to go to the doctor when they get sick?”
Kemp and Cagle both support further limiting access to Medicaid by requiring able-bodied recipients to work.
Even if Abrams is elected, she won’t be able to unilaterally expand Medicaid. The legislature passed a bill taking responsibility for the Medicaid decision away from the governor during Deal’s 2014 re-election campaign. But if she wins, at least Democrats would be able to bargain, Lassila said.