Obamacare navigator program in Georgia, overseen by former UK Extension official, is ended by state legislature

By Melissa Landon
Kentucky Health News

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed into law two bills aimed at thwarting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. One will prevent the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia from continuing its navigator program to help Georgians get Obamacare coverage once the federal grant of $1.7 million runs out in August.

Deborah Murray

The navigator program sought to educate people about the law, to help them sign up for Medicaid or for coverage on the federal exchange. “People who had never had insurance and hadn’t had insurance in a long time got affordable, high-quality insurance,” Deborah Murray, the college’s associate dean for Extension and outreach, told Kentucky Health News. “People were so appreciative and relieved to know they could now afford health care.”

Before going to Georgia, Murray was director of the Health Education in Extension Leadership program in the University of Kentucky‘s College of Agriculture, which oversees the Cooperative Extension Service in the state. She said only a few other navigator programs are based at universities.

Murray said she knew Obamacare wasn’t popular in Georgia, but she still didn’t expect the kind of opposition that arose in the legislature. “The role of the university is to educate,” she said. “What we were doing is really education focused: giving people the information they needed to make informed decisions.”

After the grant runs out, Murray said the Extension Service will continue its mission to educate and inform. “Educating the public about health-insurance literacy is part of the Extension and land-grant mission of the university, and we will continue to do that,” she said. “Helping people understand health insurance and use it properly will help reduce health care costs.” Like Kentucky, Georgia has a network of county extension offices, which they will use to continue informing people about important ideas like preventative care, co-insurance and deductibles, Murray said.

The Georgia legislation also transfers Medicaid expansion authority from the governor’s office to lawmakers and bans the creation of a state health insurance exchange like Kentucky’s. Although Georgia did not expand Medicaid eligibility to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, as Kentucky did, poor people who qualified for it and PeachCare, a state program, could still sign up. “Georgia cannot afford for our Medicaid rolls to swell. Otherwise, we start cutting into the education budget, the transportation budget and the public safety budget,” Rep. Jason Spencer, sponsor of HB 943, told Georgia Health News.

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