Small Fixes Transcend Bigger Divide

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Candidates, partisan activists, and media members alike put too much focus on the differences between the political extremes rather than practical action steps necessary to actually solve problems.  On one end of the spectrum you have those who want to get every government entity “small enough so they can get it in a bathtub and drown it.”  On the other, there seems to be an infinite supply of new potential programs that can be created with an infinite supply of other people’s money to fund any discomfort voters may experience in life.

In between are most elected officials. They are citizen legislators who set aside their everyday lives and professions for 40 days every year to try to solve problems under the constraint of a mandatory balanced budget.  Their work is often tedious and even boring, and thus is overshadowed by the bombastic hyperbole of those who draw attention by talking rather than doing.

An example of such legislation is House Bill 163 sponsored by Health and Human Services Chairman Sharon Cooper of Marietta.  Bipartisan co-sponsors include Republicans Houston Gaines of Athens, Chairman of Appropriations Human Resources Subcommittee Katie Dempsey of Rome, and Insurance Committee Chairman Eddie Lumsden of Armuchee.  Democratic co-sponsors include Spencer Frye of Athens who is Vice Chaiman of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee and Mesha Mainor of Atlanta.

Georgia children that currently qualify to receive assistance for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (commonly called food stamps) automatically meet the threshold to qualify for the state’s Medicaid program.  Despite the fact the eligibility for both programs is determined by the state’s Department of Family and Child Services, each program currently requires separate, detailed, and lengthy applications which contain essentially the same information.  The solution proposed in HB 163 would add an “express lane” that would automatically enroll and renew children qualified for SNAP into the state’s Medicaid program.

The applicants, who are often employed but usually in entry level jobs, face real opportunity costs when applying.  A single mother juggling the immediate needs of her family and work often takes care of the most pressing need – food – in her limited time available, with the intention of getting to the Medicaid application when she can.

This ends up creating an additional burden on healthcare providers according to Polly McKinney, Advocacy Director for the non-partisan group Voices For Georgia’s Children.  Healthcare providers often end up with uninsured children as patients and then initiate the application process to get them covered.  Had they enrolled upon SNAP eligibility, however, they could have already received immunizations and well as preventive “Well-Child” visits, possibly heading off doctor visits for more severe illness that sometimes start in emergency rooms because of the lack of coverage.

In addition to easing the burden on Georgia’s most economically vulnerable citizens, Representative Cooper highlighted the efficiencies the state would gain with the passage of her bill in a brief conversation before a hearing on the proposed legislation.  With DFCS employees currently process both sets of applications,  streamlining the process to a single application would free up state resources to better serve Georgia’s citizens, and provide a better return on taxpayers’ dollars.

In summary, the bill identifies a flaw in the current system and fixes it.  The customers, health care providers, state employees, and taxpayers would all be better off if it becomes law.

It’s a “common sense solution” with bipartisan support, and will likely pass with little fanfare.  Most bills that pass the General Assembly and are signed into law by the Governor fit this description.

At a time when we’re constantly reminded how divided we are, and how broken government is, we need to shine a little more light on bills like HB 163.  It won’t solve every problem for working Georgians or reinvent a broken and strained healthcare system. 

Instead, it illustrates that people who focus on fixing problems as they become aware of them still do exist.  If we were to focus on more efforts like this, our government – and those of us governed – would seem a lot less divided.

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