Health care debate in Washington, Georgia

Major health care news is percolating in the nation’s capital, with connections and ramifications in Georgia.

The biggest story, of course, is that health care reform is heating up again. A newly elected Georgia congressman, Tom Graves, introduced legislation that would de-authorize funding for the Affordable Care Act. Here’s a Gainesville Times article on the Graves effort, which coincides with a test vote Friday in the House to repeal the health overhaul.

Here, too, is a fact check about health reform in an article from NPR/Kaiser Health News. It points out that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says repealing the law  would add billions of dollars to the federal budget deficit.  House Speaker John Boehner has attacked the CBO estimate, saying it’s full of faulty assumptions.

The Department of Health and Human Services this week released a report on the state-by-state impact of a possible repeal.   Among the effects in Georgia, HHS says, 43,500 young adults would lose their insurance coverage through their parents’ health plans if reform is repealed.

Nearly 1.2 million seniors in Georgia on Medicare would be forced to pay a co-pay to receive preventive services such as mammograms and colonoscopies if the law is repealed, HHS says. Medicare beneficiaries would also have to pay  extra for an annual checkup. And 80,000 Georgia seniors reaching the notorious ‘’doughnut hole’’ in Medicare prescription drug coverage would see their costs go up for their medications, the agency says.

The 2011 state Legislature, meanwhile, is expected to grapple with the reform law’s creation of a health insurance exchange, as Carrie Teegardin of the AJC points out in a Friday article. The question is whether to let the federal government shape the exchange or have the state make those decisions. Georgia  is fighting the health overhaul in a lawsuit with 19 other states.

Kelly McCutchen of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation notes that a health exchange — where businesses or individuals can buy coverage — is an idea that has already been implemented in Massachusetts and Utah. If the state gets added flexibility to create an exchange, he says, “there are some interesting things you could do.’’

Also this week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that total national health spending grew by 4 percent in 2009, the slowest rate of increase in 50 years.  The figures suggest that Americans postponed or deferred care as they lost jobs and health coverage during the economic downturn.

Interestingly, though, spending on Medicaid jumped 9 percent, driven by millions of more enrollees in the program for the poor and disabled. The federal share of Medicaid spending rose 22 percent due to the economic stimulus legislation, while the states’ share fell.

As the extra federal funds disappear for Medicaid, the Georgia General Assembly will struggle in dealing with the program’s $6 billion budget.

Finally, the Obama administration has backed off on a regulation that would allow Medicare to pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling by physicians, as reported by the New York Times.