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ATLANTA, Ga. — Georgia physicians today called on federal and state policymakers to expand healthcare that would help hundreds of thousands of Georgians, including those who lost their employer-provided coverage, as COVID-19 cases soar and hospitals risk becoming overwhelmed. Georgia currently ranks 12th highest among states for rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100 hospital beds. On Christmas Eve, the state reported a record number of COVID-19 cases. The physicians said expanding healthcare amidst the worsening pandemic was more vital now than ever as President Trump and Senate Republicans, including Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, delayed pandemic relief for Georgians.
“Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are part of the Washington circus that continues to find ways to put Georgians’ lives and livelihoods at risk, and as physicians, we are extremely concerned that their mix of ineptitude and partisan self-interest will only prolong people’s pain during this terrible and worsening pandemic,” said Dr. Timilehin Wusu, MD, who practices orthopedic sports medicine in Lawrenceville. “Hundreds of thousands of Georgians have lost their jobs, many no longer have health coverage through their employers, and because of the delayed relief many won’t get their unemployment benefits on time. This pandemic is showing clearly that people are more likely to get severely ill, even die, when their preexisting conditions and chronic diseases go unmanaged because they can’t afford to see a doctor or a healthcare specialist. Sens. Loeffler and Perdue should be calling for more healthcare for Georgians to be able to stay alive during this deadly, global pandemic and beyond.”
Sens. Loeffler and Perdue refused to pass a relief package when it appeared before the U.S. Senate in May. When they voted to pass one last week, the version they voted for provoked a veto threat from President Trump, who signed the bill at the eleventh hour. A veto would have shut down the government, while jeopardizing financial support for frontline health workers and resources for vaccine distribution. Trump’s delay means a delay for the hundreds of thousands of Georgians who rely on unemployment payments to receive their next federal help.
At the same time, Georgia is one of 12 states that have not fully expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Expanding health care would provide coverage to more than 720,000 Georgians, including hundreds of thousands who are still employed yet can’t afford healthcare premiums. Georgia’s state General Assembly has repeatedly refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA, opting for a half-measure that costs more but covers fewer people than a full healthcare expansion.
“Too many Georgians simply cannot afford healthcare, and expanding this basic right — to see a doctor, get care when it’s needed and manage chronic conditions before they become life-threatening — would save countless lives, especially during a pandemic that is disproportionately deadly to individuals with preexisting conditions such as heart diseases, diabetes and obesity,” said Dr. Marshall Fleurant, MD, an internist in Kennesaw. “Georgians are facing a great deal of economic and healthcare uncertainty, and their leaders in Washington should be moving heaven and earth to give them the protection they need during a pandemic that has killed more than 10,000 of their fellow Georgians. They should be publicly supporting Medicaid Expansion as their opponents, Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, have been, and calling on the General Assembly to act.”
Around one of every four Georgians has no health insurance. The pandemic is disproportionately endangering Black and Latino/Hispanic people, who are four times more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19. Data also indicate that COVID-19 disproportionately sickens people without healthcare and experience food insecurity. More than 60 percent of working Georgians would qualify for healthcare under an expanded Medicaid program under the ACA. Only 41 percent of Georgia’s employers offer health coverage to their employees.
The physicians also said COVID-19’s long-term harmful effects in some survivors make healthcare expansion even more vital as physicians and researchers work to understand COVID-19 and its impact on people’s bodies. At least 10 percent of COVID-19 survivors are estimated to develop what has been called “long-haul” syndrome, a condition that presents in survivors as either damage to their vital organs, or as chronic symptoms without a clear explanation.
“COVID-19 is being linked to all kinds of complications that can last for months, maybe even longer, such as inflammation of the cells that line our blood vessels, or vascular trauma that leads to widespread clotting, and damage to the lungs, heart, brain and immune system,” said Dr. Wusu. “Low-grade systematic inflammation in people who recover from COVID-19 has been associated with chronic fatigue and other auto-immune complications. With six in 10 adult Georgians suffering at least one chronic condition and a quarter of Georgians lacking healthcare, COVID-19 is going to make things worse for millions of families. Many of them do not have healthcare, and they need their leaders in Congress and the General Assembly to step up, stop playing political games and expand healthcare now. Passing this fundamental protection for every Georgian and American can ensure people get the treatment and care they need so they can work, care for their families and give back to their communities.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, December 29, 2020
NOTE: The physicians above are speaking in their capacity as members of the Committee to Protect Medicare. They should be identified only as indicated in this news release.