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Tom Baxter

Hell No-ism could leave state in a hell of a mess

By Tom Baxter

Hell No-ism is riding high in state legislatures this year, and nowhere more so than under the Golden Dome.

The Missouri legislature is considering a bill that would require schools to notify parents of any instruction related to the theory of evolution, which the author of the bill described as “indoctrination,” and allow parents to hold their children out of the classes where it would be taught. The Kansas House last week passed a measure which would allow businesses not to serve gays, provided they said they were doing it on religious principle.

Not to be outdone, a legislator in Oklahoma has proposed doing away with marriage altogether — at least, the state’s role in it — to avoid being required to recognize gay marriage.

All this is great fodder for the liberal blogs, and gives the nation’s East and West Coasts another opportunity to opine the backwardness of its middle. But these are all just tantrum bills, destined to die in their state’s senate chambers or their courts. For real Hell No, none of them amount to much compared to the bill which would take away the power to accept or refuse the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion from Gov. Nathan Deal and give it to the legislature. It has the real potential to deeply affect the lives of  people in this state for many years.

This bill, which unlike those in other states is greased for passage, would take Deal off the hook in this year’s General Election, and leave the state on the hook far into the future. Last week the fourth rural hospital in two years closed its doors, and as the months and years move along, the state’s efforts to paper over the widening holes in its healthcare system without the money that comes with the expansion are going to become increasingly futile. Anyone who witnessed the extremely difficult passage of the hospital bed tax has a foretaste of what things will be like when the legislature takes the healthcare helm.

There’s also a great deal of billionism among our lawmakers this year.

“Where do you come up with half a billion dollars?” Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones said, explaining her rationale for the bill. “To raise the taxes sufficient to cover that would require a vote of the legislature. That’s why the governor supports it.”
Unspoken in Jones’ question was that for the next few years the state wouldn’t have to come up with a penny, and would continue to receive considerable federal assistance to pay its share — 10 percent — of the state’s total Medicaid costs for several years after that. And she didn’t reckon with the fact that the state will be wrestling to pay increasing Medicaid and Peachcare costs, whether it accepts the expansion or not. But let’s say that at some time in the future, the bill does go up by the amount she says.

“Billion” always sounds scary, but a half a billion dollars is the cost of the new Braves Stadium (estimated $672 million) and change, to insure 400,000 people a year and generate thousands of healthcare-related jobs. Or to put it another way, it’s a couple of years of coverage for less than the new Falcons stadium ($1.2 billion, in the latest, rising estimate).

Resistance by conservatives in Georgia to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has reached the place where, according to the Georgia Health News, the University of Georgia’s health care navigator program, which helps people sign up for the health care exchanges, has lowered its profile after being picketed by Americans for Prosperity at an event in Coweta County. In spite of this, and in spite of the state Insurance Department’s loudly announced resistance, more people have signed up for insurance on the exchanges in Georgia than in Illinois or Ohio. The legislature can’t stop the inevitable, but it can make a royal mess of the meantime.

It may seem a little far from the subject, but John Ettling’s “The Germ of Laziness: Rockefeller Philanthropy and Public Health in the New South,” provides some useful insight into understanding the current impasse.

When Rockefeller introduced an ambitious plan to eradicate hookworm the South in 1910, his efforts were met with widespread resentment and resistance. The notion that in the fabled “land of cavaliers and cotton field,” it was common practice in many rural areas for people to defecate in the bushes outside their homes, was simply unacceptable to many Southern opinion-makers of that time.
Even today, some historians question the effectiveness and sincerity of Rockefeller’s efforts, as if the hookworms subsequently eradicated themselves.

And there will be arguments over the Affordable Care Act for a long time to come. But needlessly muddling the process to give the governor a leg up the next election is, as the late Atlantan Whitney Houston used to say, hell to the no.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


1 Comment

  1. Phyllis Alesia Perry February 18, 2014 3:10 pm

    Thank you, Tom! Your analysis is as astute was ever. I love sports as much as anyone, especially football. But why is it normal and OK and “good for business” to spend goo-gobs (yes, this is a real term if you’re a Southerner) of money on stadiums and not on the health of real-live human beings? How is Georgia, or the rest of the South for that matter, ever going to escape the perception of ass-backwardness if we allow this kind of silly-scary politics to stand?Report


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