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Watch what they do, not what they say

Posted: February 19, 2014 - 12:04am

When you’re writing about people in politics, you should pay closer attention to what they do than to what they say.

For example, some very influential members of the General Assembly introduced a simple little bill last week just before the ice storm swept across Georgia and shut down legislative activities.

The bill would take away the power of any governor or state official, including Gov. Nathan Deal, to expand Medicaid, the health program for low-income families.

In the language of HB 990, neither the governor nor any of his department heads “shall expand Medicaid eligibility under this article through an increase in the income threshold without prior legislative approval.”

The bill is sponsored by House Speaker David Ralston, Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, Majority Whip Matt Ramsey and Deal’s House floor leader, Rep. Chad Nimmer of Blackshear.

These are some of the most powerful people working under the Gold Dome, so their sponsorship is a reliable indication the bill will be passed by the Republican majority in the House. The legislation is part of the ongoing debate over the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), which includes a section that provides health insurance to low-income consumers through the expansion of Medicaid coverage.

Georgia would receive an estimated $3.4 billion in federal funds each year if it participated in this expansion of Medicaid. The federal government is required to pay 100 percent of the expansion costs for three years and then cover 90 percent of the expansion costs for the next seven years.

This expansion would make health insurance coverage available to an estimated 650,000 Georgians who currently cannot afford it.

Despite the infusion of federal money the expansion would bring to the state’s economy, Deal has steadfastly refused to participate in it.

“Be assured, I am prepared to fight any intrusion into our rights as a state,” he said in a recent speech to a joint session of the House and Senate.

Deal’s actions back up what he says. The governor has formally rejected all opportunities to expand Medicaid or even have Georgia participate in running the health insurance exchange that is a key provision of Obamacare.

I do not doubt for a minute that Deal’s dislike of Obamacare is so sincere he will do everything he can to block implementation of the program.

Since that is the case, why would the House leadership bother to introduce a bill prohibiting the governor from expanding Medicaid? Perhaps because they think Deal might not be the governor after this year.

Ralston insists he is not worried that the Democratic candidate for governor, state Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur), could be in position to win that race. “I have no concern about a Republican governor getting elected this year, four years from now, or eight years from now,” Ralston said.

That is what Ralston says. But his actions in having such a bill drafted and introduced speak much more loudly than his words.

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