In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), colloquially known as ‘Obamacare,’ was signed into law. The purpose of the law is to provide health insurance to many uninsured Americans while lowering the cost of healthcare. However, it has been left to the states whether or not to expand Medicaid under this program, and Georgia, in pattern with other “red” states, chose not to expand it. Without Medicaid expansion and with a minimum income threshold for access to subsidies on the ACA’s health exchanges of $11,670 for individuals and $23,850 for a family of four, over 650,000 Georgia residents fall into what has been termed “the coverage gap. These residents are without access to affordable healthcare. A lack of preventative care is known to contribute to serious health problems in the future. A Harvard study found that states that expanded Medicaid had reduced mortality rates, especially in cases of childless adults. In the case of emergencies, people are forced to take on heavy debts relative to their situations. ‘Gappers’ are left with minimal options of where to turn to for care. In Athens, there are a few free health clinics (see below) that serve as important resources for individuals and families in the gap. These clinics are available to those without health insurance of any kind. Spread out over the city, places like Athens Nurses Clinic, Mercy Health Center, and Family Counseling Services can be accessed by residents seeking care.
While these clinics are valuable, the needs of Georgia residents exceeds their capacities. The current discussion over healthcare for disadvantaged groups must go beyond short term fixes. This past May, Athens For Everyone along with Moral Monday organized a rally outside the Republican State Convention conference at the Classic Center in downtown Athens. Speeches were made, a march ensued, and letters were delivered to Governor Deal and every member of the Georgia Legislature.
Participants carried crosses and other symbols to represent and honor the deaths that have occurred due to the lack of expansion. Partisan politics has cost people and cost them greatly. As our elected officials go back and forth, focusing on partisan strategizing to the neglect of the ethical and economically beneficial decision to expand Medicaid, a large number of residents face a reality in which their lives simply don’t matter and aren’t considered worth a political compromise. Georgia is only responsible for 10% of the cost with the rest being covered by the federal government which could be offset by the taxes collected from the creation of health industry jobs. Politicians on the right claim that Medicaid expansion is too expensive. But, the greater cost is in the lives of those affected by the gap.
We need a shift in the conversation; citizens in Georgia, whether in the gap, with Medicaid, or insured through the ACA marketplace, must raise their voices for universal access to healthcare. With momentum from A4E’s May action, the Medicaid Expansion Campaign was launched, open to all for active participation as we wait for the Georgia General Assembly to reconvene in January. Join the campaign to advocate for Medicaid expansion in Georgia (e-mail us at AthensForEveryone@gmail.com). It’s time to speak up and use our votes. Healthcare is a human right.
Accessible Care Resources
Athens Nurses Clinic (706-613-6976)
Athens Nurses Clinic is located on Reese Street, a block off of West Broad. ANC accepts new client appointments on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month. They provide a variety of basic health services as well as specialized treatments, dental care, and counseling completely free. Hours for current patients are from 9am to 1pm Monday through Thursday.
Mercy Health Center (706-425-4044)
Located on Oglethorpe Avenue, Mercy Health Center also provides care and intakes clients by appointment only on Tuesdays. Appointments can be made by calling on Tuesdays between 4 and 5pm. MHC’s mission is to provide health services as well as interact with its patients on a personal and spiritual level according to the stated needs of the patients. Clinic hours are from 8:30am to 8pm Tuesday through Thursday and from 8:30 to 4:30 Monday and Friday. Care is free with the option of contribution through volunteering or donation.
Athens Neighborhood Health Center
With three locations, ANHC works to serve a wide range of individuals and families including those with and without health insurance. Along with general services, pediatric care, pharmaceuticals, and mental health services are available. Rates for care vary on a sliding scale based on income. Clinics can be accessed on College Avenue, on the West Side on Old Jefferson Road, and on the East Side on McKinley Drive.
Nuci’s space is a resource center for musicians who live with mental disorders such as depression. Included in services are references to medical resources in Athens to address physical needs and to support groups for emotional needs. Nuci’s Space aids in the cost of services and seeks to get adequate help to those who need it while attempting to reduce the consequences of negative stigmas associated with mental health needs.
Additionally, residents may seek health care at reduced rates through institutions like the Clarke County Health Department, Family Counseling Services, and Athens Regional hospital.by