ATLANTA — The state of Georgia has the highest rate of new HIV cases compared to any other state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Governor Brian Kemp is now facing some backlash after cutting millions from the state budget that would have expanded Medicaid for Georgians with HIV.
The Governor said he is against any Medicaid expansion because he feels it's a one-size-fits-all program that he called "broken." The governor cut a line in the budget, tied to a house bill, that would allocate more than $4 million to pave the way for Medicaid expansion for those living with HIV. He cited the Senate never passing the House's measure.
"Governor Kemp remains focused on creating a healthier Georgia by expanding consumer access to affordable insurance coverage and, ultimately, reducing our state’s uninsured population through innovative, common-sense approaches – not by expanding a one-size-fits-all, broken government program. He’s fiercely advocating for these measures to better serve Georgians," his office told 11Alive.
The Governor's Office also pointed to around $20 million dedicated to HIV funding in the last two budgets, and a host of other funding before that.
Some healthcare advocates said the funding Kemp blocked could be keeping Georgians with HIV from getting adequate medical care. Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said Kemp has previously supported certain waivers that would effectively expand Medicaid.
"It would be a gamechanger for people living with HIV and AIDS that are currently uninsured, to make sure they have access to a full range of quality healthcare services," Graham said. "Georgia remains the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic.”
The Georgia Department of Public Health said 840 people with HIV died in Georgia in its latest report in 2020, though less than half of those deaths were HIV-related. The Kaiser Family Foundation said Medicaid is the largest source of insurance for people with HIV, and Graham said Medicaid offers more options and access to medication.
“Medications don’t dispense themselves," Graham said. "People still need access to doctors, nurses, other healthcare providers. People need access to case management, nutritional services, oral healthcare. It’s an issue not just of quality of life, but for some folks, it’s an issue of life or death.”
State Rep. Teri Anulewicz (D - Smyrna) backed the original bipartisan house bill tied to the HIV Medicaid expansion funding. She said the blocked funding would have the greatest impact on sex trafficking victims, the LGBTQ community and people of color.
"While we have been doing more than we have in the past for HIV and Georgians living with HIV and to prevent the spread, there is so much more we know we need to be doing," Anulewicz said. “The real cost is life. It’s human life, it’s Georgians who are not going to be able to be productive or live their lives. Real people are on the other side of these budget numbers.”
While there's little recourse currently for his cause, Graham said he would continue to work with lawmakers next session to try and get better access to healthcare and medical services for those most in need.
"It is still a life-threatening disease," Graham said. "It is still an epidemic spreading through our communities.”