Election focus group: On health care costs, Medicaid expansion and abortion rights (Pt. 2)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: State Affairs has assembled 10 Georgians who’ve agreed to speak with us about the most important issues facing Georgian’s during this election season. We’re following this diverse group of voters  as they chronicle their journey through Nov. 8, election day.

Last week, the State Affairs elections focus group discussed — in two parts — the topic of inflation. This week’s topic is health care and abortion rights. Here’s Part 2. To read Part 1, click on the link below.

Georgia Votes

While many Georgians may not be well-versed on expanding Medicaid in Georgia, nearly all have concerns about the rising costs of Medicare for themselves, their family members and their neighbors.

An estimated 1.4 million Georgians are uninsured and Georgia’s uninsured rate of 13.7% is THIRD HIGHEST IN THE NATION. That rate is expected to climb to one in four Georgians in rural Georgia by 2026, according to the GEORGIA BUDGET & POLICY INSTITUTE. And nearly 600,000 Georgians would be able to see a doctor and not have to worry about facing medical debt if the state expanded Medicaid, according to HEALTHINSURANCE.ORG.

On abortion, the issue continues to come down to religious beliefs, tempered against a desire for personal freedom and bodily autonomy.

Here’s what members of the focus group had to say about this week’s topic — heath care and abortion:

Casey Villarreal

Casey Villarreal, 38, Conservative, mother of three children, lives in Cartersville. 

In what ways has the cost of health care affected you and your family recently?

My husband is an owner in his law firm, where he’s a partner, in small town Georgia.  Health care is astronomical for us. We stopped using what would be known as normal health care insurance almost a year ago and switched to a Christian-based type of insurance called Medishare, just because the deductible for our family was outrageous, let alone the monthly payment, to have regular insurance. We’re a pretty healthy family of five, and that just did not make sense at all. Now we’re in a big network where the costs are split among members.

Georgia is one of 12 states that opted not to expand Medicaid, which could have extended coverage to an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 more Georgians. What is your stance on this issue?

This is a hard one for me because of course I want anyone who is in need of health care to get the help they need. But the same thing is true with my family, and we can no longer afford insurance, so we had to go find something else. I don’t think it’s okay for insurance to just be given out. We’re having to set aside money to pay for this and prioritize other things to make sure we’re making the best choices we can. So I don’t think we should expand Medicaid, no.

Congress has introduced legislation that would make abortion illegal by federal law, reinforcing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. The state of Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill” makes abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually by about six weeks. How do you feel about these federal and state actions to make abortion illegal? What other thoughts do you have about reproductive choice?

First, I don’t believe it should be handled at the federal level. It’s a state issue. Every state should be able to make their own decision. That’s why we all vote within the state. My personal belief is that I don’t agree with abortion. The Heartbeat Bill is something that I have voted for and agree with. The six weeks, or whenever a fetal heartbeat can be detected – that’s life within the womb and I feel strongly about that. Now I know there is lots of controversy around the fact that there’s no way to understand every reproductive situation, and I’m not trying to do that. I’m not talking about fertility treatments and IVF. I’m just looking at the straight six weeks, going in for an abortion, if there’s a heartbeat detected, and I say no. I feel like it’s more of a heart issue for each person. I just hate having to have any sort of laws on it. I just want to show love and grace where I can, and I hate anything that causes any sort of hurt or division.


Ellis Davis

Ellis Davis, 19, political science major at Valdosta State College, Republican, hometown St. Mary’s in coastal Georgia.  

In what ways has the cost of health care affected you and your family recently?

Well, I’m still on my parents’ healthcare plan. I talked to my family about it. Our deductible and out of pocket has gotten higher. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m in college and I’m older now. That brings us back to inflation, and the rising cost of health care for everyone. It’ll hurt a family that is struggling more.

Georgia is one of 12 states that opted not to expand Medicaid, which could have extended coverage to an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 more Georgians. What is your stance on this issue?

I’m not an expert on this, but I was talking to a friend who sells insurance. Some of the people who do have Medicaid insurance, it’s almost impossible for him to compete with the government on that. Some Georgians look at this from a free market aspect. Now, 700,000 people is certainly a lot of people, a large demographic that doesn’t have coverage. I know the system can be abused and that can be costly. I think [Medicaid] should be for major health problems. There is definitely a need for more access for severe health issues. But I’ve only had one medical issue in my 19 years, and I was covered. There should be coverage for COVID, sore throat, colds, that is something to be looked at. We don’t need free health care for everybody. It’s not the best thing for the people who work in the insurance industry, or sell medical devices, or run medical-related businesses. They can’t compete with the government on prices. I’m sorry I don’t know more about the Medicaid issue.

Congress has introduced legislation that would make abortion illegal by federal law, reinforcing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. The state of Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill” makes abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually by about six weeks. How do you feel about these federal and state actions to make abortion illegal? What other thoughts do you have about reproductive choice?

I was very supportive of the Heartbeat Bill. A heartbeat is something we look at to determine if someone’s dead. We check their pulse and use that to say if they can be legally deceased. A fetus, a baby with a unique stable heartbeat, should live; I thought the bill made common sense. There were provisions for rape, incest, the life of the mother. I do think that is good. At the federal level, I know Lindsay Graham has a bill, but I think abortion should be a state’s rights issue. It seems kind of like D.C. vs the states on this. I think abortion should be handled at the state level. Georgia is a pro-life state. The majority of coastal Georgia is pro-life, we have a lot of evangelicals in this region. I know a lot of Democrats who are pro-life. It’s a bipartisan issue among religious people.  


Marion Butler

Marion Butler, 76, retired since 2008 from a 34-year career as a developmental disabilities caretaker; lives in Cuthbert; single, widowed, lifelong Democrat.

In what ways has the cost of health care affected you and your family recently?

As a retired state employee, I have state-provided insurance, so it hasn’t changed that much recently. My co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses, I can handle them. It’s pretty reasonable. I’m fortunate to have this coverage.

Georgia is one of 12 states that opted not to expand Medicaid, which could have extended coverage to an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 more Georgians. What is your stance on this issue?

Honestly I don’t understand how Medicaid coverage works. I would say I wish Governor Kemp had expanded it because people need that coverage and can’t afford it. It would help a lot of people out.

Congress has introduced legislation that would make abortion illegal by federal law, reinforcing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. The state of Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill” makes abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually by about six weeks. How do you feel about these federal and state actions to make abortion illegal? What other thoughts do you have about reproductive choice?

I go back to scripture on this issue. I have a choice. All women should have a choice with their bodies. My religious belief is it’s wrong to have an abortion, but there are circumstances that are needed to be taken care of. But I have always said as a person, I need to make that choice myself.


James Flanagan

James Flanagan, 39, Conservative, veteran and veterans’ advocate, married with two children, lives in Atlanta.

In what ways has the cost of health care affected you and your family recently?

It’s really a personal matter for me. My number one issue is the health care bureaucracy. My wife is a doctor, so I know the numbers. In the past 40 years, we’ve had more bureaucrats coming in than doctors into the field. A way it has really hit me is dealing with my uncles who have been sick recently. Both are veterans who served in the military and needed immediate help for different ailments. And my family spent a lot of time dealing with the VA [Veterans Administration] and dealing with a lot of red tape to make sure they got the help that they needed. And it was a challenge. The system wasn’t very responsive to questions. Seems like you have to be an expert or go to a lawyer or to people who know the system to get the right care, and to make sure you get reimbursed for that care. And that extends to other folks, too. I have friends who are on fixed incomes, single parents, I can’t even imagine how they figure out how to get treatment, the right way to pay a bill. My wife is a doctor, I have a legal background, and it’s hard for us to decipher what’s covered, what insurance will pay for, how to do it. It’s very confusing, very frustrating, and I think we can do better.

Georgia is one of 12 states that opted not to expand Medicaid, which could have extended coverage to an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 more Georgians. What is your stance on this issue?

I think we have to dig a little deeper on this issue to really see what Medicaid expansion does. I’m against Medicaid expansion in Georgia because I think it hurts the weakest and most vulnerable in our state — those children, expectant mothers, the elderly. Those are the folks the Medicaid program was supposed to be geared towards. Medicaid expansion hurts them when you have a situation with limited resources, limited doctors, limited hospitals, and now you have greater competition for those doctors and hospitals. You have a number of able-bodied people who are perhaps employed that will have access to resources that really were intended for the most vulnerable in society. I think we need to do a better job of designing Medicaid so it helps those people who are in desperate need, because we don’t do a very good job right now for them. Expansion hurts the traditional population.  

The bigger issue is what are we doing for folks outside the big cities, the people in rural areas? We have a number of needs for doctors and hospitals in rural Georgia. Medicaid expansion doesn’t address any of that. So I don’t think it’s the right thing for us, or for the people in most need.  

Congress has introduced legislation that would make abortion illegal by federal law, reinforcing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. The state of Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill” makes abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually by about six weeks. How do you feel about these federal and state actions to make abortion illegal? What other thoughts do you have about reproductive choice?

My wife and I follow the science first, and science says that life begins at conception. And we’re pro-life because of that. One of government’s limited roles is to prevent physical violence between citizens, and that’s why I think there is a government interest where it comes to abortion laws. I would not have a federal law regarding it. Up until Roe, abortions were handled at the state level, and the state level is where abortion decisions should be handled. Policy can be influenced a lot more easily at the state level than at the federal level. So I think I would be against any federal law.  

Then I think our state needs to do a better job overall of building a culture of life. And that means supporting the mother after the child is born. So you need to help the mothers with employment, formula, diapers, all those things should be our responsibility. And the last thing is, I think it’s the responsibility of people who have the ability to adopt children in need. That’s something that my wife and I plan to do in the near future. We all have a responsibility to be not only pro-birth, but to support that mother, that family, that child past birth into adulthood.


Art Gallegos

Art Gallegos, 48, Republican, community organizer with Latinos Conservative Organization; married, five children, lives in Gainesville, second generation Mexican-American.

In what ways has the cost of health care affected you and your family recently?

The cost of health care has affected my family and every American family. There has been a significant increase in health insurance all across the board and in America. Just recently my employer had to go through new insurance for health care and our prices have doubled just this year. It actually went into effect this month for me and my family.  

Georgia is one of 12 states that opted not to expand Medicaid, which could have extended coverage to an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 more Georgians. What is your stance on this issue?

In regards to Medicaid, I don’t really have a stance on it at this time. 

Congress has introduced legislation that would make abortion illegal by federal law, reinforcing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. The state of Georgia’s “Heartbeat Bill” makes abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually by about six weeks. How do you feel about these federal and state actions to make abortion illegal? What  other thoughts do you have about reproductive choice?

This topic is very close to my heart and also important in my mind. 

I feel that it was a good decision for Congress to stop illegal abortion. The [Heartbeat] bill makes abortion illegal when the heartbeat is detected in a child. 

I believe that there’s a misconception regarding how Congress passed this bill. People think that it is automatically a law regarding this bill but people that want to do an abortion will somehow flee to other states to get an illegal abortion.  

As a Christian faith believer and a conservative, I feel strongly that God created life and that life should not be taken by any other human being. I believe that God has given us the right to be born and it is a conservative principle to be pro-life. 

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Catch-up on our E-Team Coverage:

STATE AFFAIRS SELECTS 10 GEORGIANS FOR ELECTION TEAM FOCUS GROUP

GEORGIA VOTES: INFLATION REMAINS TOP OF MIND FOR GEORGIANS

GEORGIA VOTES: INFLATION REMAINS TOP OF MIND FOR GEORGIANS (PT. 2)

ELECTION FOCUS GROUP: ON HEALTH CARE COSTS, MEDICAID EXPANSION AND ABORTION RIGHTS (PT.1)

ELECTION FOCUS GROUP (PT. 1): DEMOCRACY FACES CHALLENGES, BUT OPTIMISM REMAINS STRONG

ELECTION FOCUS GROUP (PT. 2): DEMOCRACY FACES CHALLENGES, BUT OPTIMISM REMAINS STRONG

CONCERNS OVER CRIME CRITICAL IN MIDTERMS FOR ELECTION FOCUS GROUP (PT. 1)

CONCERNS OVER CRIME CRITICAL IN MIDTERMS (PT 2): ELECTION FOCUS GROUP

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