Kemp Touts 'Patients First Act' For Federal Health Waivers

Feb 14, 2019

Republicans in the Senate have filed a bill that would give Gov. Brian Kemp authorization to submit a pair of waivers for the state's Medicaid and Affordable Care Act plans next year. 

SB 106, also known as the Patients First Act, would provide the latitude for Kemp to submit what's known as an 1115 wavier to the Department of Health and Human Services for Medicaid and a 1332 waiver to HHS and the Treasury for the ACA by June 30 of 2020.

In the state's amended fiscal year budget for 2019, the House has approved $1 million to pay for a consultant to explore options for these waivers, with the promise of a million-dollar match from the federal government.

Speaking briefly to reporters Wednesday, Kemp said that the goal is for the consultants to craft a Georgia-centric approach to health care that would make insurance more affordable and accessible to more people, and to improve overall quality.

"Number one, we want to lower private-sector healthcare costs," Kemp said. "That's what's killing hardworking Georgians."

Number two is to innovate Medicaid, which he says is a broken program and not working.

The governor's office has indicated little specific direction as to what options consultants might explore, but targeted programs addressing things like infant mortality, mental health and opioid abuse are within the realm of possibility for the waivers.

There is one thing off the table, though: a full expansion of Medicaid.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell (D-Luthersville) filed a bill this session that would do just that, telling colleagues on the floor last week that it needs to be expanded in next fiscal year's budget.

A fiscal note for Trammell's plan says it would cost the state about $150 million to add coverage for more than half a million Georgians by the time the governor's plan would submit health care waivers.

But Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) said Wednesday expanding Medicaid without addressing issues with the program, like a shortage of providers in rural areas, isn't helpful.

"Just because people have a Medicaid card doesn't mean they can get care," she said. "So it's bigger than just getting everyone covered, we've got to work on making the whole system better."

If the Patients First Act passes, to-be-hired consultants will spend the next 12-18 months gathering data about the state's health systems and needs before making a final recommendation on how Georgia should proceed.