Monday, March 19, 2007

Rep. Nikki Randall: GOP Slight of Hand

We better hold off bestowing the "Knights in Shining Armor Award" to Georgia Republicans for "saving" PeachCare. Even as Georgia newspapers blazed with headlines about Republicans acting to "rescue PeachCare," the Republican leadership acted in committee today to significantly rollback the benefits that are now available to working families under that critical program.

To their credit, the Georgia Democratic House Caucus issued a statement today opposing HB340, a bill designed to rollback the PeachCare eligibility level to 200% of poverty rather than 235% of poverty as it is now. (For a family of four, 235% of poverty is $47,000 per year.) We knew that passage of this bill was a high priority for Republicans who returned to session today after a two week hiatus.

According to Rep. Nikki Randall, HB 340 passed out of full committee this morning by committee substitute. The substitute not only lowers the eligibility rate to 200% but it also removes the dental and vision components of the program. The substitute bill allows the department the option of offering both the dental and vision components, but at a cost above the existing premium.

In committee today, Rep. Randall, who was the first to offer a bill, HB 236, to allow the state to fund the shortfall, offered three amendments to no avail. The meeting was very restricted. Committee members were limited to only one question and testimony was limited to one minute. Calling it a "fast train," Randall finally offered a motion to postpone action on the bill because she felt that the bill was not given an adequate hearing because of the new restrictions. The bill also gives the department the power to raise or lower the premium rate in response to the amount at which the program is renewed, reason being that, of course, the General Assembly will not be in session when Congress makes that determination. That gives an awful lot of power to a non-elected body. Randall said, "if we can come into special session to pass a gas tax surely we can come back to make that crucial decision." No kidding.

The Telegraph noted that the Governor's beloved "Go Fish" program was 'slashed' from thirteen million to just five million to help pay for the PeachCare 'fix.' (That's because campaign mail that said Republicans told Georgia families to "Go Fish" for health insurance would have been just too devastating. Can't you visualize that commercial or mail piece?)

We need to remember the big budget surplus that Sonny touted during the campaign and that the majority of the money Georgia is fronting for this temporary shortfall will be reimbursed by the Federal Government when the SCHIP program is reauthorized this summer. Plus, don't we need to ask what sort of priorities allow us to spend even five million on "Go Fish" if we are further restricting access to children's health insurance?


Tina said...

As a retired educator, I will again point out the close connection between children's health and their performance in school. Many kids in Georgia reach high school without ever having been to a dentist. Many have vision and hearing deficits that need correction.

Vic said...

Recent Reports
Analysis of HB 340 – HB 340 reduces PeachCare eligibility from 235 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 200 percent of FPL (while giving the Board of the Department of Community Health the authority to decrease eligibility further to 185 percent of FPL), models PeachCare after the State Health Benefit Plan as opposed to Medicaid, eliminates dental and vision coverage, and requires income and citizenship verification. (03/20/2007)

Kathy said...

The long term solution of course is to induce Georgia's voters to vote this conscience-free crowd out of office! With the current cap of $47,000 for a family of four, this will affect a whole bunch of "middle class" families. Perhaps this is the gut punch it will take to convince them there are more important issues at stake than what the state flag looks like. Our children rank pretty darn low on the priority list, unless they happen to be the privileged poppets of the well to do....or the well-to-do wannabes.