Georgia rally demands Medicaid expansion

Atlanta — From under a sea of umbrellas, a crowd of hundreds rallied here on Jan. 13, the opening day of the state legislature — the General Assembly — to press for the expansion of Medicaid in Georgia.

With a steady rain falling, speaker after speaker pointed out that human suffering and death could be avoided if Gov. Nathan Deal would agree to expand the eligibility of Medicaid coverage as provided for under the Affordable Care Act.

Some 650,000 Georgians who are ineligible to get Medicaid under the state’s existing guidelines could receive health care under such an expansion. Many single adults who are unable to afford health insurance because they survive on poverty wages — such as fast-food, Walmart and domestic workers — would be covered.  Others, members of working families who are poor, but not poor enough to receive Medicaid without the expansion, would receive preventive care for themselves and their children.

Although 100 percent of the increased costs would be paid with federal dollars for the first three years of the expanded program, Georgia’s reactionary governor is one of 23 who are refusing to accept the benefits the law provides. Studies show that some 70,000 additional jobs would be created over 10 years and some $30 billion would enter the Georgia economy under expanded Medicaid.

Georgians face a right-wing agenda of voter suppression, anti-worker legislation, attacks on women’s rights and unending tax breaks for the rich, similar to what residents of North Carolina have been protesting. Inspired by the Moral Monday actions in North Carolina that started last year, a number of grassroots and advocacy organizations and human rights activists began meeting in late summer to build a comparable movement in Georgia.

The expansion of Medicaid and the possibility of bringing health care services to hundreds of thousands of Georgians unites a broad range of interests, in both rural and urban communities across the state. “With recent public opinion polls showing that a significant majority of Georgians favor Medicaid expansion, the task is to galvanize opinion into political action and power,” states Kamau Franklin, a key organizer.

In a show of solidarity, the Rev. William Barber, a major force in the N.C. Moral Monday Movement, and a number of low-wage workers, part of NC Raise Up, joined the Jan. 13 demonstration. NC Raise Up has galvanized youth employed in the fast-food industry.

On Jan. 20, Moral Monday Georgia plans to bring the message of expanded Medicaid to the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. march in Atlanta and in other cities around the state.