Georgia Lawmakers Ignore Pleas From ‘Moral Monday’ Protesters And Block Medicaid Expansion

CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

Bert Skellie, of Decatur, Georgia., protests for Medicaid expansion

On Tuesday evening, the Georgia legislature approved two anti-Obamacare measures that will block state residents’ access to insurance. One of the measures, HB 990, will strip Gov. Nathan Deal (R) of his authority to expand Medicaid, leaving 600,000 of the poorest Georgians without affordable health care options. The second will make it more difficult for residents to get the information they need about enrolling in new plans under Obamacare.

Nearly 40 activists who identify with the larger “Moral Monday” movement that originated in North Carolina were arrested on Tuesday, after disrupting the legislative proceedings in the state capitol. They were specifically hoping to deter lawmakers from approving HB 990.

Over a dozen activists chanted “Our lives matter” and “Medicaid expansion now,” effectively stalling the activity in the upper chamber and eventually getting arrested for their repeated interruptions. Later in the afternoon, protesters blocked the entrance to Deal’s office in an act of civil disobedience, leading to another round of arrests. Finally, a blockade of the Senate chamber resulted in several more arrests.

The protesters included a diverse group of religious leaders, students, labor advocates, progressive activists, and elderly residents. One of the individuals who was arrested was Rev. Raphael Warnock, who leads Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. used to serve as a pastor. Many of the activists see this issue in moral terms. “I don’t want to see people in Georgia die because of lack of health care,” one protester said while he was being escorted to a holding area following his arrest.

This is the ninth Moral Monday action in Georgia, and participants considered Tuesday’s dramatic protest to be a turning point for the state.

“We are at the beginning of a new Southern strategy,” Tim Franzen, the lead organizer behind Georgia’s Moral Monday movement, told the New York Times. “The changes we need to make in Georgia to transform the state are going to take years. But with the changing demographics of the South, our victory is inevitable. This train has left the station.”

Nonetheless, Georgia lawmakers aren’t yet on board. After the disruptions in the capitol, the legislature approved the anti-Obamacare bills. Since the state’s session comes to a close this week, Tuesday’s votes effectively kill Medicaid expansion for 2014.

Deal has repeatedly affirmed his opposition to expanding Medicaid, which would be fully funded by the federal government for the first three years. Last month, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution uncovered evidence that the governor’s office actually helped craft HB 990, the legislation that removes his authority to accept the expansion. Deal’s administration has argued that the governor simply supports the legislation because lawmakers should have a say on this important issue.

Deal’s state would actually greatly benefit from Medicaid expansion. Georgia has the fifth highest number of uninsured residents in the country, and hospitals in rural areas are being forced to close their doors because they can’t afford to remain operating without the funds from the expansion. A recent study from Georgia State University study estimated that expanding the public program would create up to 70,000 new jobs statewide.

Georgia isn’t the only place where activists are protesting their lawmakers’ refusal to extend Medicaid coverage to additional low-income people. A similar movement in South Carolina, going by the name “Truthful Tuesday,” recently led to several arrests after protesters demanded Medicaid expansion. Activists in Texas and Pennsylvania have also recently confronted their lawmakers over the policy, and similar groups are beginning to form in Florida and Alabama.