Improving health equity in Georgia

By Malika A. Redmond, executive director, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW | 2/21/2014, noon

During this month of Black History we celebrate the achievements of African Americans in the sciences, literature, and the arts. We also celebrate the generations that have organized themselves to change the laws and policies that disenfranchised people of color and kept us from full citizenship. That legacy laid a foundation, a template that has forever changed the way progressive movements interact with democracy. Now is the time to harness this legacy in service of ensuring health care for all.

That is why, just as our elders did decades ago for civil rights, young people of color, domestic workers, and people of all generations are urging our elected officials to end the longstanding inequity in health care access.

Having health insurance and access to care is not simply an issue of health, but also one of economics and human rights. Expanding Medicaid to more Georgians at or near the poverty line is not just the right thing to do – it’s what our state and the rest of the deep south wants to do. A poll conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that 61 percent of adults support expansion, including nearly half of people identifying themselves as conservatives. This support stems from knowing how much we are leaving on the table if we turn our back on this opportunity. The $40 billion that will come into the state will directly benefit individuals and families who cannot currently afford to purchase health insurance and don’t make enough to qualify for a tax break. These billions invested in Georgia will create an estimated 70,000 jobs and make sure hospitals are fully reimbursed for the care they provide.

Atlanta’s Grady Hospital and the 174 hospitals affiliated with the Georgia Hospital Association agree that expanding Medicaid would ensure the financial stability of their facilities who serve those without insurance. It will also help reduce the health disparities that already affect communities of color, disparities that will continue to grow if we do nothing. Half of Georgia’s 1.6 million uninsured will gain coverage if we expand Medicaid. This means that 55,000 women will gain access to preventive care, like mammograms and cervical cancer screens. It means that 33,000 Georgians will get their diabetes medication. And it means that more Georgians will be able to seek treatment for an illness or injury sooner, before the situation is dire and much more costly to treat.

Governor Deal and the legislature have an immediate and unprecedented opportunity to be on the right side of the people they serve. Today, while our leaders find ways to pass the buck on Georgians’ health, we the people are gathering for a day of action to demand that they accept federal funding to increase health coverage for the low-income uninsured. We believe that how much one does or does not earn for their work should have no impact on whether they are able to see a doctor or get the care they need. With nothing to lose and so much to gain, this intergenerational movement is fighting for everyone who lacks insurance due to age, income, family structure or employment status.