Health care issues in the state dominated a briefing on the 2017 legislative session that Oconee County’s delegation to the Georgia General Assembly gave to county Republicans late last month.
Much of that briefing centered on the need for the state to provide adequate health care outside the major metropolitan areas and particularly outside Atlanta.
A stumbling block for the legislators was uncertainty about what Congress was going to do with the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Bill Cowsert told the group, meeting at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce on Nancy Street in Watkinsville.
When the General Assembly ended its session at the end of March, the U.S. House of Representatives had not yet passed the American Health Care Act, which is now before the Senate.
Cowsert described the state as in “a little bit of a holding pattern” waiting on action in Washington.
Although the primary focus of the nearly 45-minute-long session was on health care, a subtext was tax policy.
Cowsert and Rep. Regina Quick, who represents the Bogart, Athens Academy and Malcom Bridge precincts of Oconee County in the 117th House District, disagreed on whether it was better to help rural hospitals via state grants or tax credits.
Cowsert said the grants allow the state to have better control over how state money is spent, while Quick said tax credits better allow the free market to work.
Both, as well as Rep. Chuck Williams, who represents the remainder of Oconee County in the 119th House District, said that health care concerns had been dominant in the completed legislative session.
“It was somewhat of a different session, little bit strange,” Williams, the first of the legislators to speak, told the 18 people in the audience.
“Some people who watch the legislative process would say ‘not terribly productive’,” he added.
Williams said the session “sort of had the feeling of an election year session,” when legislators begin to focus on the upcoming election.
Williams said rural hospitals and health care are critical issues that he expects to be addressed more fully in the 2018 session.
Oconee County Included
Oconee County and Athens-Clarke County are not rural, Cowsert told the group, but they are not part of metropolitan Atlanta.
The legislature is concerned that good health care be available to all people, including those not living in the state’s metropolitan areas, he said.
“There are a lot of healthcare related issues that we are eager to deal with,” Cowsert said, “but we have to know what’s the playing field. What’s going to happen with the Affordable Care Act? Is it really going to be repealed and replaced? If so, under what format?”
Cowsert said that most legislators in the Republican-controlled General Assembly would like to have a more decentralized system with block grants to states.
Cowsert said the preference is that the federal government allow states to come up with “their own program that fits the needs of their state best.”
“The one thing that I know is all three of us share is a concern for rural health care,” Cowsert said.
Cowsert and Quick did not agree on what role government should play in bringing that about.
“We are actively trying to help those rural areas have the same access to health care that the metro areas have,” Cowsert said.
“Government interference in health care is not a pretty picture, from top to bottom,” Quick said when given her turn to speak.
Williams largely sat out that discussion.
I was not able to attend the April 27 meeting, the first the county Republic Party held since a new leadership team was elected in March.
Tammy Gilland, newly selected chair of the party, presided at the meeting and introduced Williams, Cowsert and Quick, who spoke in that order.
Sarah Bell did attend, made the video below, and provided the crowd estimate I used above.
Williams began speaking at 6:35 in the video.
The trio responded to questions following their introductory comments, and those responses run through 51:20 in the video.