Valdosta Daily Times

September 5, 2010

Roy Barnes: New health reform law’s unhealthy for Georgia

Dawn Castro
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Roy Barnes says the new federal health reform law backed by fellow Democrats could be “financially devastating” for Georgia unless officials in Washington figure out a way to help states cope with a staggering jump in Medicaid costs.

Barnes, the Democrat running to reclaim the governor’s mansion, also blasted both political parties and President Barack Obama for failing to win bipartisan support for a law more Americans could get behind.

“I consider it to be the greatest failure, modern failure, of political leadership in my lifetime,” Barnes said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

“Everybody recognized ‘we’ve got to do something here,’ but there was such partisanship on it.”

Barnes blamed Democrats for failing to explain the plan better and Republicans for not delivering reasonable alternatives. But he said ultimately the buck stops with Obama, as it did with him during his one term as governor.

“Listen, I made mistakes. I pushed some things that I should’ve reached a better consensus on,” Barnes said. “He did the same thing. He’ll learn.”

Republicans have wasted no opportunity to link Barnes to Obama, who has seen his approval ratings sag in recent months. Polls show Obama’s popularity in Georgia is well behind the national average. The Republican Governors Association is running a tough new television ad in Georgia suggesting the two men share the same arrogant leadership style.

Barnes’ Republican opponent, Nathan Deal, has said he opposes the Obama-backed health law. He delayed his departure from Congress to vote against the bill, stepping down in March immediately after casting a “no” vote on the measure.

At a recent candidate forum sponsored by the state’s medical association, Deal assailed the health care law by saying it would place unbearable strains on already cash-strapped states like Georgia.

For Barnes, the health care law presents a tricky political balancing act. On the one hand, he must not alienate Democrats who back the law and make up the base of his political support. But he also needs to appeal to independents, and even moderate Republicans, who are deeply suspicious of the law and see it as a form of government intrusion.

Barnes said there are some things in the sweeping law he likes, such as prohibiting insurance carriers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical problems as well as allowing parents to keep children on their insurance coverage up to age 26. Barnes also said he would immediately accept money to create an insurance pool for high-risk individuals. Republican Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has refused to set up a state pool, meaning federal officials will operate one in Georgia.

But Barnes said — like Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue — that he worries the plan’s expansion of Medicaid in 2014 to cover more of the state’s estimated 1.7 million uninsured will leave Georgia on the hook for “staggering costs.”

“I hate to agree with Gov. Perdue, but I agree that this is one place that I think could be very financially devastating to the state until we get this ironed out,” Barnes told The AP.

Barnes said current state Medicaid spending of roughly $2 billion could more than double to $5 billion once the federal government reduces matching rates back to more traditional levels.

The federal government and the state share the costs of Medicaid.

The federal government will pay 100 percent of costs for covering newly eligible individuals through 2016, under the law. But federal officials are also under pressure to cut the deficit, and Barnes said there will be tremendous pressure in Washington to have states pitch in.

He predicted governors would band together to create fixes to the law that would make it more manageable for state budgets.

Barnes also said that while he disagrees with Perdue’s decision to sue to overturn the health law, he wouldn’t pull the plug on the legal action if elected governor.

“If the state takes a position then you have to stick with the position,” he said.

He added, however, that he believes the lawsuit will be unsuccessful.

Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker refused Perdue’s request to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health law, saying he believed a challenge lacked legal merit. Perdue named an outside counsel, who is working for free, to file the lawsuit along with a number of other states challenging the law.

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Online:

Roy Barnes for Governor: www.roy2010.com

Nathan Deal for Governor: www.nathandeal.org