Two months ago, state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens appeared at a GOP event in Rome and made a statement that went viral in Georgia...

Two months ago, state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens appeared at a GOP event in Rome and made a statement that went viral in Georgia political circles.

“The problem is Obamacare,’’ said Hudgens, an outspoken critic of the health care law. “Let me tell you what we’re doing: Everything in our power to be an obstructionist.’’

During that August appearance, Hudgens described how the state had added its own requirements for the licensing of navigators — people who help consumers obtain coverage through online exchanges.

Ralph Hudgens

Ralph Hudgens

Georgia Democrats swiftly denounced the commissioner’s speech. They said it was proof that state Republican officials were trying to hinder the exchanges and generally resist implementation of the health care law, officially known as the Affordable Care Act.

On Thursday, in an interview with Georgia Health News, Hudgens clarified his “obstructionist’’ comment.

“I guess my mouth got away from me,’’ he said, noting that the Floyd County audience that applauded his fiery words was filled with ACA opponents like himself. “There’s nothing I can do to be an obstructionist.’’

The Georgia insurance department has very little impact on the federal law, Hudgens said.

The agency did a review of the premium rates offered in the exchange, and oversees licensing of the insurance navigators who help consumers apply for coverage, he noted.

That licensing, Hudgens said, is necessary to make sure navigators understand programs such as Medicaid and PeachCare in the state, and to run applicants through a background check to make sure felons aren’t hired.

Outside of the navigator licensing, Hudgens said, he has no role in implementing the ACA.
But he also made clear that he’s not going out of his way to facilitate a law “that I think is going to collapse our economy.’’


Unwanted benefits?

The ACA rollout of the insurance exchanges has been anything but smooth, especially in states where the federal government is running the effort, such as Georgia. Technical problems have continually blocked consumer applications, enrollment and even browsing of health plan prices.

And this week, media reports have focused on the cancellation of individual health insurance policies across the nation, a result of their not complying with the ACA minimum
requirements for benefits.

Those minimum benefits include maternity coverage, prescription drugs, hospitalization and mental health services.

Hudgens said an estimated 400,000 Georgians have individual coverage today that doesn’t meet those requirements. But if a policyholder can renew his or her policy before Jan. 1, that person can keep that same coverage, he said.

He said some individuals don’t need all the things that the ACA requires to be in health policies. For instance, single men don’t need benefits for children or maternity coverage, he said.

“As I’ve been out in the state, the people I’ve talked to are complaining they’re going to [have to] buy these more expensive, ACA-compliant policies.’’

Hudgens acknowledged that Obamacare will help people with pre-existing health conditions obtain more affordable coverage. But he said the requirement to cover everyone’s existing health problems “is doubling the cost of individual health insurance.’’

He spoke of a 62-year-old woman who’s in a state program for people with health conditions who said her premium was rising from $542 a month to $790 a month, with higher out-of-pocket costs.

The dispute over the ACA, Hudgens said, boils down to a philosophical argument – “Is your health care my responsibility? Is my health care your responsibility? I believe in individual responsibility.’’

Hudgens said that if he could “wave a magic wand,’’ he would like to see repeal of the ACA, and then lawmakers could address problems such as pre-existing condition coverage through “free market solutions.” Congressional Republican efforts to repeal the law have largely stalled out.

At one time, Hudgens supported Georgia running its own health insurance exchange, as Kentucky and 15 other states are currently doing.

He changed his mind, he said, because federal officials turned down Mississippi’s proposal for its exchange, signaling that Georgia would face similar obstacles.

“The federal government would not give us the latitude’’ to run it the way state officials wanted, Hudgens said.

The state insurance department’s call center is getting 15 to 20 calls a day related to the ACA, and is referring them to navigators or to, agency officials said.

“A lot of it is frustration,’’ Hudgens said.

He recommended that consumers wait to explore their options on until the bugs are worked out. The White House has pledged to have the online exchanges running properly by the end of November.


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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

  • Pat Thomas

    FIne reporting by GHN!

  • guest

    How come Ralph did nothing for me as Cigna raised my premiums from $697 to a whopping $2200 in the span of 6 years? How about he talk about the fact now I will pay $450 a month instead of $2200 a month with better coverage thanks to the ACA.

  • old native Georgia white guy

    What a bunch of bs. He simply got caught with his hand in the cookie jar saying what he really thought. His claim that there is little obstructionist he can do anyway is not consistent with his imposing artificial barriers to the licensing of Navigators (the state test is identical to the Federal test they have to pass), until a few days ago the Insurance Dept. just stonewalled citizens inquiring about ACA, Hudgins did absolutely nothing to require lower rates from ACA insurers presumably to encourage higher prices and state agency employees have been prohibited from doing anything in conjunction with any group supporting ACA. Just compare us to Kentucky where the state has cooperated and may have the highest percent ACA enrollment in the country. Apparently, Hudgens doesn’t care about the health of the 2 MILLION Georgians without health insurance, probably because he figures they aren’t his voters. Well, I hope they register to vote and turn him out. By the way, I have gotten on the ACA website and there is no way for the example he poses of the woman whose premiums have skyrocketed to be true unless she is incredibly wealthy. But that’s one of his voters.

  • old native Georgia white guy

    Also, forgot to mention that it is also a violation of Federal law to intentionally interfere with US citizen receiving benefits to which they are entitled under the law. I would like to hear the advice he got from Ga. AG’s office re that. If not guilty, he and others have certainly skated pretty close to the edge.

  • Juanita Anderson Normann

    Georgia has a real problem with health insurance. I moved here two years ago from upstate New York, never ever expecting the problems in obtaining health insurance–there’s a big racket called health discounts which pass themselves off as insurance-or if you have pre-existing conditions the insurance carrier makes you wait a year before giving you appropriate coverage. But, the uninsured health care consumer is big business in Georgia. Pay as you go clinics abound down here. Cash on the barrel head for immediate care places and professionals. If GA insurers were to even consider providing the coverage to the poor that other states are giving with the expanded medicaid monies from the Federal government-they’d lose money… the poor continue to pay for their care out of pocket. I recently applied for insurance on the Marketplace, only to find that despite being 100% at poverty level, I don’t qualify for Georgia’s 138% of poverty level limits– which preclude me and others from getting not only medicaid but tax relief, leaving us to pay the full freight on the insurance offered on the Marketplace–which after looking at Georgia’s offerings– I’d still have to spend 44.7% of my income in order to purchase a “silver” plan which only covers 60% of any medical costs after a 3500/5000$ deductible.

    States like Georgia, and Florida are not dumb — they realize that people will look at the states that are offering more insurance coverage at better rates and benefits and say–why am I staying here–the “rolls” are reduced because people move out of state reducing the costs on their “system.” Kind of a — not in my backyard–but here you go for your backyard.

    I think it is cruel and unjust that people with the same income and needs are not able to qualify for the same coverage no matter where they live.

    • Rick Z

      While information about premium subsidy eligibility has been somewhat ambiguous, my understanding is that in a state like Georgia that hasn’t taken the Medicaid expansion, you’d be eligible for the subsidy if your income is between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level (though not below). If the state has taken the Medicaid expansion, you’d qualify for Medicaid up to 138 percent of the FPL, and qualify for a premium subsidy if you were between 138 percent and 400 percent. I’m not sure why the differing 100 percent and 138 percent standards exist, though, and would be curious if anyone here can explain the origin of that.
      You raise an interesting point about the greater prevalence of health discount plans here for those lacking access to affordable health insurance. I don’t necessarily agree with the implication that the state is deliberately protecting this segment of the industry; rather, I think it has thrived here simply because the state has done less than other states to publicly provide and fund health care for low-income residents. But the effect is the same.

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