Georgians weary of failed Obamacare repeal but want health care action

For the third time, congressional Republicans admitted defeat Tuesday on a push to repeal Obamacare, seemingly for good.

In Georgia, opponents and supporters alike were weary and frustrated at the wasted time and energy that Congress has cost the nation. But they were not spent: They immediately spoke of what needs to be done now.

Providers of indigent care called for Congress to direct its attention to funding programs that expire Saturday, such as PeachCare and hospital subsidies. A foundation that advocates for the free market called for Georgia to use existing law to implement the best parts of GOP desires.

“Yay,” Dr. Karen Kinsell said from her clinic in Clay County, where she treats many indigent patients. “Obamacare has a lot of problems. But it’s where we made the promise to people that we will try to take care of them, that we’re all in this together. Any change to that, that would deny health care coverage to 20 million people, is not acceptable.”

Fairly quickly, though, she added that it’s time now to act.

“Obamacare has a lot of problems that need to be fixed,” she said.

Kelly McCutchen, the president of the libertarian-leaning Georgia Public Policy Foundation, thinks that’s the understatement of the year. Unlike Kinsell, he thinks the inability to pass the Graham-Cassidy bill marks “a massive failure of politics.”

“If you’re sitting there, you have a majority, you’ve had six months to work these things out,” McCutchen said. “And they failed.”

But like Kinsell, he wants policymakers now to get down to business.

“We still have an opportunity to move forward,” McCutchen said. “There were some good things in the bill that would have made things happen earlier and better, but we still have our destiny in our own hands.”

Several federal funding programs for hospitals, lower-income child care and other subsidies expire Saturday. To be funded, they need Congress to vote for that. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson has expressed a willingness now to work across the aisle on such items.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who was most closely aligned with President Donald Trump on Obamacare repeal, released a statement late Tuesday still focused on the failure, blaming it on “a complete lack of congressional leadership and no accountability to get results.”

The problems Kinsell and others bring up with Obamacare will also take congressional agreement but are harder: rising expenses for premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for health care. Part of that is driven simply by the rising cost of health care.

Georgia may get a bitter taste of that this week, when the state releases final agreements with health insurers on their rates for 2018. Several have indicated that uncertainty at the federal policy level is driving their prices higher.

On the state level, Georgia still has the ability to agree with the federal government on a “waiver” of certain Obamacare provisions to get more flexibility to innovate on using the money. That’s what McCutchen and some others hope will happen.

State leaders have shown openness to the idea. Other issues will be discussed Wednesday, when a task force on barriers to access to health care in Georgia is scheduled to hold its inaugural meeting at the state Capitol.

But not all think repeal and replace is really dead. A story on the news website Politico raised the possibility that Republicans could try to repeal Obamacare again next year.

The Georgia Hospital Association prodded Congress to remember that the state’s hospitals already absorb $1.7 billion a year in uncompensated care.

Laura Colbert, the director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, said the patient advocacy organization was “cautiously optimistic” about the road ahead. “But we won’t be surprised if we see further threats to consumers health care,” she said. “I also hope our elected officials learned some lessons from this process.”

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