By Donovan J. Thomas
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 12, 2023
A national group of doctors gathered Sunday for a march in downtown Atlanta, pushing for the expansion of Medicaid, while also urging Wellstar Health System to donate the former Atlanta Medical Center site to the city.
Some carried signs with tombstones of closed hospitals in Georgia, and others of the over 100 people in attendance chanted in support for a single-payer health system, while decrying the actions of Georgia state officials and Wellstar Health System as detrimental to the health of Georgians.
The effort was a collaboration between Physicians for a National Health Program, a group of doctors that advocates for Medicare for All, elected officials, community members, patients and advocacy groups such as the New Georgia Project, Georgians for a Healthy Future and Georgia Equality.
Dr. Anwar Osborne, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program and an emergency medicine physician in Atlanta, spoke to concerns around proximity to care for underserved community members. He also talked about the stress being put on Atlanta’s now sole safety-net hospital and Level 1 trauma center, Grady Memorial Hospital.
“We’re here to say that closing this building, regardless of the forces that allowed that to happen, improve nothing here,” he said. “Those of us who are still left in the health care space are just fighting to make it to the next day.”
Organizers cited Georgia’s high rate of uninsured patients and lack of health care access as drivers for the march. Additionally, the closure of hospitals across the state, including two hospitals in Atlanta by Wellstar in 2022, were cited as a cause for alarm for underserved communities with dwindling health care options.
Georgia is one of 10 states to not expand Medicaid, the state-federal program that pays for health care for the poor, people with disabilities and many elderly patients. Because the state did not expand Medicaid, which was part of the Affordable Care Act, billions of federal dollars that are meant to support the state’s health systems are going unused.
Many doctors, other providers and health policy experts believe the lack of expansion leads to worsening health outcomes and will harm the state’s poor residents for years to come.
“We know that the lack of Medicaid expansion and the governor’s attempt to come up with a contrived system is an opportunity for him to eliminate people, just like attempts at eliminating voters,” said Sandra Lee Williams, president of the Atlanta North Georgia Labor Council.
Of Georgia’s 370,000 poorest uninsured adults, less than 2,000 have been enrolled in Georgia Pathways to Coverage, which has work or activity requirements. Many say the program is costing more than expanding Medicaid would and hurting those most in need.
“The fair thing would be for the governor to fully expand Medicaid,” Dom Kelly, co-founder of the New Disabled South, the first regional group focused on disability rights in the country, said. “It’s really beyond time. People are dying.”