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Jim GallowayJim Galloway

Jason Carter blisters Nathan Deal for ‘passing the buck’ on Medicaid expansion

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This morning we judged H.B. 990 to be the most important bill of the 2014 legislative session. Now we’re predicting it will be be one of the hottest issues of the governor’s race.

State Sen. Jason Carter, the Democrat challenging Nathan Deal’s re-election bid, this afternoon blistered the governor for his “amazing” acquiescence to a House GOP plan to strip the executive branch of its power to expand Medicaid in Georgia.

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Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta. AJC file

“To me, it is more evidence that he’s doing everything he can in refusing the responsibility of leadership,” Carter said. “It’s an unbelievable example of him passing the buck.”

H.B. 990 is sponsored by Speaker pro tem Jan Jones, R-Milton; Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge; Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire; and the governor’s floor leader, Chad Nimmer, R-Blackshear.

At a noon press conference on the aftermath of the latest winter storm, just before he departed for a helicopter tour of Augusta, I asked the governor if he supported the bill.

“I’m fine with that, yeah,” Deal replied.

H.B. 990 would require legislative approval to expand Medicaid rolls by 600,000 or so – which once was a required portion of the Affordable Care Act, and now is only a polite offer. The feds would finance all of the health care costs for the first three years and cover 90 percent of the costs thereafter.

Deal has said he doesn’t trust the federal government to keep up its end of the bargain, and has steadfastly refused the cash. But other governors have cut deals with the White House on the use of the billions of dollars made available.

Carter, preparing the first well-financed Democratic assault on a sitting Republican governor, has indicated his willingness to go this route. Which H.B. 990 would prevent – should Carter beat Deal in November.

In a telephone interview, the grandson of the former president pointed out that the new bill surfaced on the same day that the 25-bed Lower Oconee Community Hospital in Wheeler County closed its doors. The private hospital laid off “some” of its 100 employees, at least temporarily, according to 13WMAZ in Macon. More hospitals in rural Georgia are expected to follow suit.

This is one of the ironies of Obamacare. Because it was designed with an expansion of Medicaid in mind, federal funding to hospitals that treat the indigent has been trimmed – and has not been replaced. Lower Oconee is one of many hospitals caught in the economic pinch.

Carter accused the governor of trying to escape blame for the squeeze that Georgia hospitals are feeling – by handing the decision off to the Legislature. “[The bill] is just focused on the political question that’s on the governor’s desk,” the Atlanta senator said. “You’ve got jobs at stake, and you got the governor saying he doesn’t want the responsibility.”

The state senator portrayed H.B. 990 as part of a pattern shown by Deal – whose campaign last week began an effort to point parents to local school boards on the matter of teacher pay raises.

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