Supporters rally at Capitol for Medicaid expansion

Ken Watts | 1/17/2014, 7:35 a.m.
Human rights activists braved a cold rain to rally outside the Georgia State Capitol building on Jan. 13 to call ...
“Moral Monday” organizers, who rallied with nearly 200 activists on Jan. 13 at the Capitol, want to keep pressure on the governor and lawmakers.

Human rights activists braved a cold rain to rally outside the Georgia State Capitol building on Jan. 13 to call on Gov. Nathan Deal to expand Medicaid – a key provision of the Affordable Care Act.

The NAACP and a multiracial, multicultural crowd of nearly 200 supporters staged the “Moral Monday” demonstration on the first day of the Georgia legislative session.

Georgia’s Moral Monday is patterned on the movement that started in North Carolina to promote Medicaid expansion and stage weekly demonstrations to protest all public policies that activists consider detrimental.

Deal, a Republican, has said the state can’t afford to expand the federal Medicaid program because it is too costly and the state is already overtaxed. More than half of the states are moving forward with expansion plans with the help of money from Washington, but a report by the Commonwealth Fund said that as of November 2013, Georgia and 19 other states, all with GOP governors, have opted out of the Medicaid expansion.

Georgia stands to receive $4.9 billion if it expands the program, and 153,000 more uninsured Georgians would gain health coverage.

Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, states that extend Medicaid to people earning up to about 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $14,800 for single people and $31,000 for a family of four, would get 100 percent reimbursement from the federal government for the first three years.

Medicaid is usually a cost-sharing program in which the federal government pays on average about 57 percent of costs and states pay the rest. But under the expansion, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the additional costs for the first three years. After that, states will have to kick in a very small percentage more each year. By 2020, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the costs.

But after a series of challenges to the law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states can’t be forced to add more people to Medicaid.

Moral Monday leaders say they will hold weekly demonstrations on various issues. Another Medicaid rally is scheduled for Jan. 27 and a protest against “stand your ground” laws will take place on Feb. 3.

At the Jan. 13 demonstration, the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, told the Atlanta crowd to make legislators hear them.

“Don’t make a deal with injustice,” he said. “Do what is right.”

Protesters carried large “Expand Medicaid” and “Healthcare is a human right” signs outside the west entrance to the Capitol and laid white paper cutout crosses and crescents on the steps leading into the building. Some commuters headed home in rush-hour traffic on Washington Street honked their horns in support.

Nathan Knight, the DeKalb SCLC president who was sheltering under an umbrella in the rain, said they simply want Deal to reconsider his decision to not accept $2 billion in federal funds to expand Medicaid in Georgia.

“There are too many people who are being denied the basic right of health insurance and the [federal] money is available,” Knight said. “The state of Georgia did not take those dollars and as a result people are suffering.”

To dramatize the urgency, demonstrators formed a line and moved past barriers toward the locked doors of the Capitol.

Capitol Police and state troopers posted on the steps at first blocked their path but soon allowed participants to quietly file up to the doors and leave small white crosses and crescents before heading back down to Washington Street.

The Georgia NAACP president, Dr. Francis Johnson, said the officers did the right thing.

“We appreciated the officers’ discipline and restraint, although many of us were ready to go to jail if necessary,” he said.

Johnson joined a number of other leaders offering guidance to supporters of their movement.