The three Republican state legislative candidates who spoke at the Oconee County and Athens Area Chamber of Commerce Candidate forum on Thursday night said they did not want the government involved in health care and that the market could provide solutions to health care problems.
The other five speakers–four Democrats and a write-in candidate–said the market was not working and government needed to step in to address health care problems.
All the speakers except the three Republicans favored expansion of Medicaid in the state, saying Georgia not only was not providing for needy residents but was passing up federal tax money collected from people in Georgia that is going to other states.
The three Republicans opposed expansion of Medicaid.
The forum, attended by well over 150 people, was run as four separate sessions–for Senate District 46, for Senate District 47, for House District 117 and for House District 119.
Moderator Tim Bryant of WGAU radio asked different questions in each of those four sessions, but he included at least one question on healthcare in each.
Senate District 46 Candidates
The first session, for the 46th Georgia Senate District, was supposed to have three candidates: Republican incumbent Bill Cowsert, John Fortuin, an official write-in candidate, and Marisue Hilliard, a Democrat.
Cowsert sent word on Thursday evening that he could not attend because of last-minute scheduling of a deposition. Cowsert is an Athens attorney.
Hilliard, from Oconee County, is a retired U.S. Forest Service administrator. Fortuin lives in Athens and is a voting rights advocate who has worked in the computer industry.
The forum was held in the 3rd Floor Auditorium of the Medical Services Building, Piedmont Athens Regional, 242 King Avenue in Athens.
Bryant took questions from the audience passed to him on cards, but he also asked his own questions.
Bryant asked Fortuin and Hilliard about voting machines, paper ballots and campus carry before turning to health care.
Both speakers wanted to change the voting machines and use paper ballots and were opposed to campus carry.
Senate District 46: Healthcare
Bryant, who is news director at WGAU and also a conservative commentator on the station and elsewhere, next asked Fortuin and Hilliard if they favored Medicaid expansion and how they would pay for it.
|Fortuin And Hilliard|
“Expanded Medicaid would, in Georgia, provide 600,000 Georgians with health insurance they currently don’t have. I think that is a good idea,” Hilliard said. “We have the fourth highest uninsured rates in the United States.
“It is a simple vote for the legislature to expand Medicaid,” Hilliard said. “And it would take us a long way for getting more Georgians insured.”
“I’m also in favor of expanding Medicaid,” Fortuin said. He said he also wanted Medicare for all.”
“We would end up saving an enormous sum of money and get much better health outcomes,” Fortuin said.
Senate District 46: Who Pays?
Neither candidate answered the question about who pays for Medicaid expansion, and Bryant noted that. Rather than repeat his question in Medicaid, he asked Fortuin who would pay for Medicare for all and asked Hilliard who would pay for Medicaid for all.
As Fortuin tried to answer, saying some of the savings would come from removing administrative “overhead,” Bryant interrupted him twice.
As Hilliard tried to answer about Medicaid, Bryant interrupted her.
“Quit interrupting,” someone in the audience yelled out.
“I’m asking questions,” Bryant said. “I’m the moderator. It’s my job to put the questions to the people.”
“It is a net gain when you take on expanded Medicaid,” Hilliard said at that point. “Simply due to the costs that are covered by the federal government.”
Bryant then turned to other topics.
Senate District 47 Candidates
Oconee County falls wholly in the 46th Senate District, which also includes about half of Clarke County and the eastern part of Walton County.
The remainder of Clarke County falls into the 47th Senate District, which is represented by Republican Frank Ginn. The district also includes Barrow and Madison counties and parts of Jackson County.
Ginn and Democratic challenger Dawn Hawkins Johnson moved to the front of the auditorium after the first session.
Johnson directs a program on developmental disabilities and is from Winder. Ginn lives in Madison County and has served as a county manager and a city manager.
Questions before health care dealt with student loans and debt (Johnson wants to make technical schools free, Ginn does not) and reduction of the number of counties (both said it was up to the counties).
Senate District 47: Health Care
Bryant asked the two candidates: “What is your health care plan? Do you have one?”
|Ginn And Johnson|
“Let me ask you, when I look at government run programs, are those government run programs the most effective way to carry out any service?” Ginn responded.
“Government exists so that collectively people can do something that you can’t do as individuals,” Ginn said. “There is private sector insurance,” he added.
“The biggest thing is, when I look at Medicare, it is your money,” Ginn said. “My question is when we start looking at health care, where does personal responsibility come into that picture?”
Johnson said that “Health insurance has been a market failure. We are the last developed nation that has tried to hold out thinking the market is going to fix it. But it has not. They have had decades to fix it. And it has failed.
“So we have to take action for the safety and security of the citizens of the state,” Johnson said.
“You are already paying for Medicaid expansion,” Johnson said. “It’s in your federal taxes, and it’s going to other states. The incredibly liberal states of Kentucky, Louisiana and Arkansas have all expanded their Medicaid.”
House District 117 Candidates
The third session included incumbent Democrat Deborah Gonzalez and Republican challenger Houston Gaines.
The 117th House district includes three precincts from Oconee County–Athens Academy, Malcom Bridge and Bogart–and parts of Clarke, Barrow and Jackson counties. Clarke County makes up the largest part of the district in terms of numbers of voters.
Gonzalez is an Athens attorney and Gaines is a consultant with a fundraising firm.
Bryant asked both candidates about economic development and the Hope Scholarship at the beginning of the session.
Gaines said he wants to lower the tax rate for companies and reduce regulation to stimulate economic development. Gonzalez said she wants to invest in small businesses in the community rather than give tax credits to large companies.
Gonzalez said she would make Hope Scholarships available to undocumented students who came to the U.S. as children, and Gaines said he would not.
House District 117: Health Care
Bryant asked the two candidates for “your views” on Medicaid expansion and “so called Medicaid or Medicare for all.”
|Gaines And Gonzalez|
“A lot of physicians won’t even take Medicaid patients because it barely even covers costs,” Gaines replied. “So you are expanding care that is not something that is already working. So why would you want to expand a program that is not benefitting its recipients?
“A third of the people that would get Medicaid under Medicaid expansion already have private health insurance,” Gaines claimed. “So if the goal is to expand insurance coverage, a third of those people already have that coverage.
“The two million people who are already on it are not receiving great, frankly, are not receiving great care,” Gaines continued. “And we start looking at adding 500,000, 600,000 people to Medicaid rolls, you’re going to blow up the system that’s already struggling.”
Gonzalez said “I’m proud to advocate for Medicaid expansion. I was one of the co-signers of the bill this legislative session to expand it.”
“Every days we leave over $8 million on the table,” Gonzalez said. “That money is going to other states. It does not go back to the federal government. It goes out to other states when it could be helping our people.
“Very simple, if you don’t have healthy people, you don’t have business. You don’t have productivity. You don’t have education. You don’t have anything because people end up dying.”
House District 119 Candidates
The first session ran for 35 minutes, and the second ran for 32 minutes.
Bryant used up five minutes at the front of the session for introductions, a statement of procedures, and a pledge of allegiance to the flag.
Bryant held the third session to 27 minutes, but the forum, which was broadcast by WGAU, needed to end 8 p.m., or two hours after it began.
That meant that the final session could only run about 20 minutes.
Bryant called on Republican Marcus Wiedower to introduce himself first, followed by incumbent Democrat Jonathan Wallace. Both are from Oconee County, where Wiedower is a home building and Wallace is a software developer.
The district is split about evenly between Oconee and Clarke counties.
Both Wiedower and Wallace mentioned healthcare in their opening statements, with both saying it was something they knew was a problem because of conversations they were having with citizens while campaigning.
House District 119: Health Care Question
Bryant seized on those opening comments.
|Wallace And Wiedower|
“This will sound like I’m trying to be flip or I’m trying to be funny,” Bryant said. “That would be unlike me. I’m not trying to do that at all. But we’ve talked about health care all night. I swear I thought we fixed that back in 2010. I was told we did. What happened?”
President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010, with provisions rolling in over the next years, and many Republicans and President Donald Trump have been calling for its repeal since its passage.
Wallace, who was asked to respond first, didn’t take the bait from Bryant.
“That’s a great question,” Wallace said. “Thank you for asking that.”
House District 119: Health Care Responses
“The big issue that we have with health care is that we have left over $32 billion on the table since 2012 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act,” Wallace said. “That is $8 million a day that we have left on the table.
“In fact, at the end of the day, there are $8 million that we have paid into as Georgians that we’re not seeing. It’s gone to the states that other folks have mentioned earlier in the evening.”
Wallace said “one of the hospitals in this area wrote off over $25 million in indigent care. Where do you think that cost ends up? If they’re writing off those costs, its being born by everyone who already has health care access and it’s making the costs go higher.”
Wiedower said “I think we can all agree, the rising health care costs, it’s abominable. We all have to come together and come to the table and find ways.
“Making a simple decision is not necessarily the right decision,” Wiedower said. “Our country is built on innovative principles of the private market. We need to infuse those into the health care market. We do not need government to step in and try to fix that for us.”
Wiedower said “We need to consider direct doctor to patient billing. Incentivize doctors to treat these patients who don’t have health care insurance, that are lower income, incentivize them in a manner that brings those people to the table.”
Bryant had little time for additional questions, but he asked about paper ballots (both candidates favor their use) and vouchers for private schools (both candidates were opposed).
Bryant had remained assertive throughout the debate, interrupting at times and pushing candidates to defend their answers, particularly if they involved spending money.
None of the candidates reacted negatively to the interruptions or prods.
Fortuin and Hilliard agreed on most issues, but there was little interaction between them as they sat at the table at the front of the auditorium.
Johnson and Ginnn disagreed in responses to most of this issues, and they also interacted little.
Gaines, as he did in the forum in Oconee County on Oct. 11, focused on his own identity as a “third generation Athenian” in his self-introduction and his concluding comments and attacked Gonzalez in both the introduction and the conclusion.
Gonzalez ignored Gaines’ attacks. She emphasized her experiences as daughter of a father who was in the military for 30 years, living in a working class home, holding jobs since she was a teenager, and as a single mother of two daughters.
Wallace and Wiedower disagreed on issues, but they shook hands and hugged at the beginning and the end of their short session and indicated they had talked about the impact and potential impact of holding elected office on their families.
Early voting starts tomorrow and runs through Nov. 2 at the Board of Elections and Registration, 10 Court Street, across from the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Board of Elections and Registration office will be open for early voting on from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27.
Registration closed on Oct. 9.
The video below is of the entire two-hour Chamber of Commerce forum.
The first session, involving Fortuin and Hilliard, begins at 4:59 in the video.
The second session, involving Dawn Johnson and Frank Ginn, begins at 40:51.
The third session, with Houston Gaines and Deborah Gonzalez, starts at 1:12:45.
The final session, with Jonathan Wallace and Marcus Wiedower, begins at 1:39.52.
I counted 134 people in the room as the session began. I counted 181 at the end of the third session.
People came and went during the evening, as the program progressed, making it difficult to give an accurate account of the number of people in total who participated in the forum.
Sarah Bell also recorded the forum as a backup to the video below. I recorded the video used here.