ATLANTA — Governor Brian Kemp says he wants to expand Medicaid benefits for Georgians unable to access health care and health insurance.  

Georgia Republicans, led by Gov. Nathan Deal, had refused for years to accept federal money to expand Medicaid. But Gov. Kemp now wants to see if there’s a way to do it—at least a little bit.

Kemp took a lot of heat for paying scant attention to health care during much of his campaign. Now he says it’s a top priority for him as governor.

"This is a big step. But a big step is needed. We’re at a crisis with health care not only in our state but in our country," Kemp said Wednesday.

Kemp's backers in the state Senate have introduced SB 106, which would give Kemp the authority to explore a waiver under the Affordable Care Act, as well as a Medicaid waiver under the Social Security Act – designed to expand access to health care, and access to health insurance. 

Kemp's staff says it would specifically target issues of mental health care, opioid addiction and infant mortality but Kemp’s staff says everything but full Medicaid expansion is on the table.

"It’s not about Medicaid expansion. It’s about getting free markets and private insurance to cover as many Georgians as we possibly can," said Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan.

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Health care interests make regular appearances at the Capitol, many of them lobbying for full expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  Kemp doesn’t support that. According to an 11Alive poll last fall, 70 percent of Georgia voters do.

"Sometimes change at the General Assembly is incremental," said Elizabeth Appley, who has been lobbying for years for Medicaid expansion. She says Kemp’s bill is a step forward. "We’re excited to see Georgia moving forward to increase access to health care. And we’d like to see as strong a model as possible."

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Kemp's bill had no Democratic co-sponsors. "Certainly covering more Georgia citizens than we have now is something that’s better" than no Medicaid expansion, said Democratic leader Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker). But Henson added that Democrats still want a full Medicaid expansion. 

Kemp’s bill is still very short on details. It proposes hiring a consultant to make recommendations on how Kemp can expand health care access. It will be evaluated with an eye on how to implement it in ways Georgia Republicans can support. 

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