A Georgia bill to expand Medicaid coverage to people living with HIV did not pass out of the House, another setback to low-income communities across the state. Georgia has the highest incidence of new HIV cases in the country, as well as among the highest number of uninsured residents.
Georgia Medicaid currently covers people living with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), but not those living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to AIDS—especially without care. Though HIV cannot be cured, it can be managed with antiretroviral medications to prevent the virus from causing AIDS or being transmitted to others. On March 6, the deadline by which current bills had to move out of their original chamber, legislators chose not to advance the bipartisan House Bill 226, which would have made such medications more affordable.
“We have to listen to Georgians, and our citizens impacted by HIV are asking for this legislation,” Representative Solomon Adesanya, one of the bill’s sponsors, told Filter. “Lawmakers too often turn a deaf ear to those who need resources the most. This is especially true when the issue affects a marginalized community … we need to show our constituents with HIV that we are listening to them.”
More than 50,000 people in Georgia are currently living with HIV, which disproportionately impacts people in the South. Approximately 71 percent of Georgians with HIV are Black.
“This bill will reduce health disparities in this state, especially [among] Black people,” Christopher Reed, policy and advocacy program manager at Atlanta-based HIV advocacy group SisterLove Inc., told Filter. It would be “a step in the right direction to full Medicaid expansion.”
“This bill is not only morally imperative, it is an investment in our state.”
At least 1.2 million people in Georgia currently do not have health insurance, unable to afford private coverage and ineligible for Medicaid. The state is set to expand Medicaid in July 2023, but only partially. Republican Governor Brian Kemp has long fought against even limited expansion, despite the fact that Medicaid access would lower both human and economic costs.
“This bill is not only morally imperative, it is an investment in our state,” Rep. Adesanya said.
Full expansion would make health insurance accessible to about 600,000 uninsured people in Georgia. This would include many of the approximately 12,500 people enrolled in the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which provide limited services for those without insurance. House Bill 226 would be federally funded, and so would ease the burden on these programs without diverting any resources away from them.
Though the bill will not become law in 2023, the sponsors intend to reintroduce it in future legislative sessions. But they’re braced for Gov. Kemp to continue to oppose Medicaid expansion, even in limited forms.
“We should all be concerned about that prospect,” Adesanya said. “Though this bill is bipartisan … still some Republicans won’t support it. On our side, we are lucky to have an inclusive group of legislators who are willing to bring attention to this bill, and I know that we will continue the fight for this bill until it is signed into law.”
Photograph via United States Department of Health and Human Services