U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock

ATLANTA – Georgia’s two U.S. senators are pushing legislation to let Georgia and 11 other states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act do so through a new “look-alike” federal program.

Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff introduced the Medicaid Saves Live Act this week to extend Medicaid to up to 4 million low-income Americans who earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but not enough to buy coverage on the private market.

“Expanding Medicaid is the single most effective solution to close our state’s coverage gap,” Warnock told reporters Wednesday during a conference call.

The original version of the Affordable Care Act then-President Barack Obama steered through a Democratic Congress in 2010 required states to offer Medicaid coverage to residents earning incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level.

But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years later let states opt out of expanding Medicaid. A dozen Republican-led states – including Georgia – have chosen not to expand the program, citing the cost to taxpayers.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is pushing an alternative version of health-insurance reform in Georgia. The state submitted a waiver request to the federal government asking to move forward with a limited expansion of Medicaid, which the Trump administration approved last year.

But the waiver was put on hold by the Biden administration because of concerns over a work requirement.

The new legislation would require the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services to create a new program looking like Medicaid that would offer coverage with no premiums and low copayments.

Unlike the Affordable Care Act, which requires states to pay a 10% share, states would not have to contribute any of the costs.

Warnock said the “robust incentives” his bill offers leave Georgia and the other states with no legitimate reason not to expand Medicaid.

“If you talk to any objective analyst, there’s no fiscal justification for that,” he said.

Ossoff said the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid has contributed to the closure of nine Georgia hospitals during the last decade.

Warnock said expanding Medicaid in Georgia would provide health coverage to nearly 500,000 low-income Georgians who can’t afford it now. He also cited a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation estimating Medicaid expansion would create 64,000 jobs in the Peach State.

“We help our physical health … but it is [also] a shot in the arm for the Georgia economy,” he said. “This helps keep Georgia’s health-care workforce strong.”

Warnock said he wants to make the bill part of a $3.5 trillion “reconciliation” package Senate Democrats reached agreement on Tuesday. Because of the rules involved in the reconciliation process, the package would need only a simple majority of the 100-member chamber to pass rather than the 60 votes normally required to get legislation through the Senate.