Election focus group: On health care costs, Medicaid expansion and abortion rights (Pt.1)

16 min read
3196 words
Tammy Joyner
Oct 19, 2022

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 healthcare and abortion rights. Here’s Part 1. Part 2 runs Thursday.

Georgia Votes

They’re a pretty healthy bunch for a group of five ranging in age from 18 to 65.

They aren’t facing a mountain of medical bills or debt — thanks in large part to employer-provided insurance, Medicare, socked-away money and, for some, routine diet and exercise.

They’re keenly aware of their good fortune — and the misfortune of others. 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.

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.

Still, the State Affairs elections focus group tends to differ on whether Georgia should have expanded Medicaid. They also differ on the issue of abortion. 

Here’s what the group had to say about this weeks topic — heath care and abortion:

Yana Batra

Yana Batra, 18, Democrat and Georgia Tech freshman; first time voter

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

My family and I are very lucky to have health insurance. My family has definitely gone through some serious health incidents. My mother shattered her ankle when I was younger and still deals with the repercussions of that.

Some members of my extended, very close family have dealt with cancer and strokes. So we’ve [financially] supported a lot of those medical expenses and bills. Had we not had the opportunity or health insurance coverage throughout that period, we would definitely be in much worse straits.

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?

It’s a little ludicrous. Georgia already is paying in some ways for the expense of Medicaid in other states. We’re already spending the dollars. We’re just not expanding coverage [in Georgia]. And this is overwhelmingly denying coverage to Black and brown Georgians, poor Georgians, rural Georgians where coverage of hospitals in Georgia is frankly obscenely low. We just closed Atlanta Medical Center,  a Level 1 Trauma Center.

We’re already paying for better care for Georgians who are currently deprived of it and still not expanding it. For reasons that frankly, don’t make a lot of sense or simply aren’t true. It’s very disheartening.

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 haven’t had to think about that kind of decision yet. I really firmly believe that abortion is a healthcare decision. It’s a medical decision. Abortions happen for a variety of reasons. It is a decision that should be made by the person who needs one and their doctor. It should not be made on a federal or state level by legislators who frankly know very little about the health care and the medicine involved. 

An example of that fallacy is the fact that we call it the ‘Heartbeat Bill.’ At six weeks, only fetal heart tissue is present. There isn’t even a heart present. What you hear isn’t the sound of a fully-developed heartbeat at six weeks. It’s the sound of electrical charges. Yet we still call it the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ in Georgia because it’s an excellent tactic that provokes the idea that what’s happening is unjust or cruel. When really what we’re seeing and hearing are all of these tragic stories of young incest survivors who are crossing state lines to get an abortion because they’re 10- or 12-years-old, and a baby would permanently alter their body. As anybody who has had a child knows, you risk death or further complications. 

Reproductive freedom is not only freedom to choose when and where and whether to have a child but also freedom in so many other senses. You look at the history of reproductive freedom, it’s tied to economic freedom. It’s greater liberties, especially for women but also people with uteruses in general. It’s greater freedom in terms of the ability of trans and nonbinary people to live their lives. The scope and scale of the decisions that have been made on this issue are just not appreciated by those making them.  


Steve Brown

Steve Brown, 58, Republican lives in  Peachtree City with his wife; empty-nester

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

Luckily, we’ve been healthy and haven’t really been hurt by any of that. We have good insurance coverage. We’ve also set aside some money to cover the excess costs that our insurance doesn’t cover.

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?

Kemp made the right move when he didn’t expand. We just don’t want to rely on this federal government dependence. 

We keep accepting more and more federal government money. There’s always strings attached to that money. If you’re going to accept that, you’ve got to take everything else that goes along with it and you’d have to fund that in perpetuity as well. Right now, we’re approaching $30 trillion [in national debt]. We’re going down a very slippery slope.

There’s this perception that the federal government somehow created the state governments instead of the state government creating the federal government. The problem we have is that the federal government’s supposed to be not as big a player. The state should have more autonomy to do what they want to do with the federal government. Over time, especially since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we’ve created a system where the federal government keeps getting the states to fall into these programs through paying them.

For example, they’ll make you do certain things with your highway because you’ll get the federal money for highways. So you have to do it their way. 

Ultimately, the health care you’re paying for through Medicare is taking money out of your pockets because you’re paying for it in taxes. We’re watching the middle class in the United States just disintegrate.

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?

It shouldn’t even be in the federal domain. It should be up to the states, which is essentially what the recent Supreme Court decision did.

There were arguments on both sides of the Roe v. Wade decision back in the day that said this is eventually going to come back because they probably did not rule on it properly. And they didn’t recognize the rights of the states; it’s kind of a very similar situation. The federal government is probably overstepping its bounds, just like the federal government is not responsible for my health care but they’re throwing money at the states and the states are going to keep taking the money.

There’s nothing the federal government does that doesn’t cost us. It either takes our money or takes our freedom. 

I’m very much a pro-life person. There’s a baby involved. That’s one of the points [U.S. Senate candidate Herschel] Walker made in his debate [appearance last Friday]. The only person not mentioned in the room that night was the baby. 


Kendall Edwards

Kendall Edwards, 28, farmer and precision agriculture consultant for a local tractor dealership; lives in Ocilla; single

In what ways has the cost of health care affected you?

At 28, you just don’t have a lot of health care [issues]. My employer provides 100% insurance for me.

I have seen it from a distance with my grandma but I don’t know if that directly affected whether she was going to get health care. She had leukemia but then got cured. She just struggled after that. It was one thing after another. Finally she had a little bit of dementia and that’s ultimately what she died of last February.

The VA [Veterans Administration] does a really good job of taking care of the veterans as far as I can see. Once my dad finally got in the program, he’s had phenomenal success.

So I don’t really have a genuine concern about health care and the cost.

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?

Anytime you can offer health care or an extension or just an extra hand or reach out there a little bit further, you should do that. You’d have to do that with a comprehensive plan as far as how you’re going to fund it. The biggest problem with most states is funding. How are we going to properly pay for whatever we’re planning? But anytime you can extend a hand, do that. 

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 surprised and shocked when [Roe v Wade] was overturned. I couldn’t imagine the Supreme Court going that far

When it comes to abortion, I find it hard-pressed to tell you what you can do with your body because I don’t want you to tell me what I can do with mine.

Then again, if you believe in the Bible and what it says, we all fall short and there’s no big sin or little sin but it just says, ‘Thou shall not kill’. So that whole morality or religious belief does play a part in that. But I just don’t think it’s my right to tell you what you can and can’t do. 

We all have to answer for our own faults and sins and decisions we make. So I’d rather keep the government out of that.

If you’re raped or abused, I definitely don’t think that it’s your burden to carry a child you didn’t want. 

As long as we make that decision [to have an abortion] early, I don’t have a problem with that. But when we get out there late [in the pregnancy] and then we decide ‘I don’t want to do this no more,’ I’m not a fan of that.


Keith McCants

Keith McCants, 40, Democrat and factory worker married with three children; lives in Richmond Hill

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

My family and I are fully insured by my employer-based insurance. So we really haven’t had any kind of difficulties when it comes to our health care costs. 

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?

We do need Medicaid expansion because there are a lot of people who need health care and who need Medicaid.  I’m one of the lucky ones who have insurance but there are a lot more other people out there who don’t have the insurance nor can they afford to pay for their own health care. So the Medicaid expansion would be great. It’ll really help a lot of these hospitals across rural Georgia especially.  So I’m hoping within the next year or two Georgia will finally expand Medicaid into some of our less prosperous areas of the state. So yeah, I’m all for it.

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?

Although I’m pro-life and I’m against abortion,  those new [federal and Georgia] positions are too extreme. A woman should have a right to determine whether she chooses to have an abortion. 

The law they passed in Georgia is too over the top; too outside the mainstream. It’s going to cause a backlash. That law goes way too far, especially if the person’s health or life is in danger or we have a case where a relative were to assault another relative.

I don’t think a young woman should proceed [with a pregnancy] because of her parents. Anyone under the age of 18 should have the right to seek an abortion. But they should also consult with the father [of the unborn child]. Don’t leave him out. Ask for his opinion. If it’s neutral, have an abortion. If not, then sit down and talk about it.


Marla Thompson

Marla Thompson, 65, married college professor who lives in Riverdale; Democrat but votes according to issue

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

My husband is a veteran. He works for the Veterans Administration at the medical center. So for him, it’s no issue at all. But for me, it’s a different story because I have a different health care plan. I just signed up for Medicare. The system is so complicated. You really could get disgruntled and just don’t even want to do it. 

Even when you sign up for it, you have to pay all this exorbitant amount of money. You can’t go to your own doctors and you can’t do this. You can’t do that. 

I stay healthy. I eat healthy. I work out every day. I power-walk about three miles a day and I participate in weightlifting and aqua aerobics. I make sure that my mental capacity stays on equilibrium. I don’t allow foolishness to enter my brain to depress me in any way. 

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?

It’s just ridiculous. We could have access to it, but we’re paying for other states to have it. Walk or drive down the street and you see so many people living on the street because they don’t have access to [proper medical care]. You see so many veterans who have fought for our country, our freedom, who can’t get access.

So I’m really disenchanted. I have to stay healthy. I have to make sure I clean my own teeth because I can’t go to get my teeth cleaned by whomever I want  to clean them. I find free schools like Clayton State [University] and the Atlanta Technical College where they need patients to practice on. You can get your stuff done that way.

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?

It’s appalling that the individuals who made that decision are all men. Whatever happens, happens to the woman. There’s no responsibility on the men who are impregnating these women to take any action or to take any responsibility. They’re making decisions about the life of a woman but it doesn’t affect them at all. When their girlfriends, lovers or side chicks get pregnant, they send them somewhere where they can get them taken care of because they don’t want that to be introduced into their families or to disrupt their world.

It is ridiculous that for 50 years, this was in place. Then all of a sudden, my nieces and great-nieces are going to experience this [reversal.] Even the men in my family who may impregnate a woman cannot make the choice. It might be for health reasons that they can’t carry the child to full-term.

I have a niece in Minnesota who just had triplets. They didn’t know if the babies were going to make it because one of them was weak in her womb. So they took the babies early. One of the babies ended up dying. What if you had a woman who had a child beyond the six weeks and the child dies? Then the mother [may face criminal charges] because she had to have an abortion to get the dead fetus out of her. 

It’s just ridiculous. It seems like we’re going backwards as opposed to moving forward. It’s not an abortion issue it’s a healthcare issue.

[Sen.] Raphael Warnock said it so clearly [during the senate debate].  There’s not enough room in the hospital room for the mother, the father, the child, the medical professionals and the United States government to be all up in your business. 

Want to participate in the conversation? Find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Also, sign up for our free newsletter at stateaffairs.com. Follow Tammy Joyner on Twitter at @lvjoyner or send her an email at tammy@stateaffairs.com.

Catch-up on our E-Team:

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. 2)

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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