ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's state government will for the first time run its own marketplace for individual health insurance under a law that Gov. Brian Kemp signed Tuesday.
The governor said during a ceremony at the state Capitol that the law would create a better way for people “knowing and comparing their health care insurance options” and bring “further competition to the field.”
“Georgians know their needs and those of their families best,” he said.
The law is one of three big changes that could affect hundreds of thousands of Georgians who get subsidized health insurance through the state and federal government.
Kemp's administration also plans to launch in July a partial expansion of the Medicaid program to insure some able-bodied adults who have incomes below the poverty line but are working or attending school. And like all states, Georgia is reviewing the eligibility of all its 2.4 Medicaid recipients as a pandemic-era rule ends that blocked the state from removing any beneficiaries.
Senate Bill 65, allowing the state marketplace, took effect with Kemp's signature. It reverses an earlier law that blocked the state from establishing its own health care exchange. That law was part of an effort to blockade Georgia from participating in the Affordable Care Act under then-President Barack Obama. However, the federal government has been providing coverage through the Healthcare.gov website, and nearly 900,000 Georgians signed up for individual coverage during the yearly enrollment period that ended Jan. 15.
Many Georgians with incomes above the poverty line can buy the policies at little to no cost because of federal premium subsidies, although copayments can be substantial. People with higher incomes can also buy policies on the individual market.
Insurance Department spokesperson Weston Burleson said Georgia officials hope to launch the state marketplace as early as this November. However, federal officials could push back Georgia's launch date until 2024. Federal rules usually require states to spend at least 15 months constructing their own marketplace.
The state market will be different from the one Kemp originally envisioned. He had wanted to place insurance offerings in the hands of private brokers who could sell both policies offering the bundle of coverage required under the Affordable Care Act, as well as policies with lesser benefits.
President Joe Biden’s administration balked at Kemp's plan, and after a legal wrangle, Kemp agreed to a central state marketplace that would only sell federally approved policies.
Kemp administration officials say they're prepared to launch the marketplace quickly because of all the work they did on the earlier proposal, on which they spent at least $31 million.
A state-based market could have some advantages, Laura Colbert, the executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, said. For example, she suggested Georgia could extend its enrollment period past the normal Nov. 15-Jan. 15 window. She also suggested offering to let people buy health insurance using their income tax refunds, and a one-stop application for Medicaid, Peach Care insurance for children and the state marketplace.
“Some state-based marketplaces have done some really innovative things," Colbert said.
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