If people are choosing to give birth or, in some cases, being forced to give birth, access to health insurance is critical. Georgia is one of 10 states that still hasn’t expanded Medicaid, thanks to Republican obstruction. We asked Georgia Representative Dr. Jasmine Clark and three other women serving in the Virginia, Nevada, and Michigan legislatures to discuss how Medicaid expansion helps their constituents and saves lives.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Dr. Jasmine Clark, State Representative for Georgia’s 108th House District: I think it’s really important for people to recognize that in the South, there are a lot of poor health outcomes, and it doesn’t have to be this way. But, it is this way because policy makers have decided that they will do everything else possible other than give people access to health care. So, what that means is that there are hundreds of thousands of Georgians who would be eligible for Medicaid that are going without insurance. And when people go without insurance, they don’t just go without insurance – they go without having a primary care physician, they go without seeking preventative care, they go without cancer screenings.
Just because you don’t go to the doctor doesn’t mean you’re not going to get sick. But when they do get sick, they’re more afraid of the bill than the diagnosis. So, they finally get to the doctor when their prognosis is much poorer, when their health has deteriorated to the point that they feel they no longer have a choice but to go. And usually they’re going to the emergency room or they’re going into crippling debt in order to take care of health issues that could have been prevented or at least caught a lot earlier when the way to resolve it is a lot less expensive.
Not expanding Medicaid in Georgia not only costs more fiscally for our state, but it effects the ability of hospitals to run. We’re one of 10 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid – we’re also one of the top states for losing hospitals. And the reason why is because our governor absolutely refuses to do the simple things that would keep our hospitals open, like expanding Medicaid.
Sandra Jauregui, State Assemblymember for Nevada’s 41st Assembly District, Nevada Assembly Majority Leader: I think the only thing I’ll add, and Dr. Clark said it best: No American should ever go bankrupt accessing health care.
Winnie Brinks, State Senator for Michigan’s 29th Senate District, Michigan Senate Majority Leader: Yeah, in Michigan, that’s one of my most proud moments, being able to cast a vote to expand Medicaid. As many as three quarters of a million more people had health care during the pandemic because of that vote. And it’s not just good for that parent who can get health care, it’s good for every member of the household. It helps make sure the children in that household get off to a healthy start and can be present at school, and their parents can be successful at work. So it’s not just about health care. It’s really about the success of the next generation as well as this one. It’s a huge policy win, and I really hope that Georgia can get there too.
Dr. Mamie Locke, State Senator for Virginia’s 2nd Senate District, Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus Chair: Yeah, same here. When we expanded Medicaid, that was a big, big win for the commonwealth. Even our Republican colleagues had to admit that. They were on board with it primarily because they lost 15 seats as a consequence of not supporting expansion in 2017, and they had to turn around in the next session and support it. But once people realized how important it was in their lives, everyone was like, “Oh, I didn’t know that this was what Obamacare was.” Yeah, it means you are able to get health benefits that benefit both you and your family!
Michigan Leader Brinks: We did it with a Republican trifecta. So we had leadership from a Republican governor and some members of each chamber. They were able to provide enough votes to get it done alongside Democrats – it was truly bipartisan. So there’s still hope for those states that have yet to do it.
Georgia Representative Dr. Clark: Being able to go to the doctor, being able to afford your medicine, being able to get lifesaving screenings should be 100% bipartisan. I truly hate that here in Georgia, it has turned into a partisan fight, because I really want to believe that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle want their constituents to be healthy. And, it’s really hard to understand why you would be against something that would just provide people an avenue to get the care that they need. Both blue states and red states have expanded Medicaid, so you don’t have to say this is a Democratic policy. You can just say it’s good policy, it’s policy for the people.
This is Part Five of a five-part conversation among women state legislators, convened by the DLCC in honor of Women’s History Month.