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The sick state of Georgia

Our abysmal access to health care is about to get worse



If you live in Georgia, you can expect to die younger than if you lived in Massachusetts, Texas, or Iowa. In fact, if you live in Georgia, you can expect to die younger than if you lived in all but nine other states in the country. You can also expect to die younger than if you lived in Mexico, Libya, or Croatia. According to multiple studies, Georgia ranks around 40th or 41st in the country for life expectancy, and 43rd for general healthiness. Interestingly, we also rank 41st for lack of health insurance, with more than 20 percent of the population uninsured.

As the Republicans take back the House, vowing to battle Obamacare with every tool at their disposal, Georgians should pay special attention to the upcoming fight simply because we are more screwed than much of the rest of the country.

Infant mortality, life expectancy, rates of infectious diseases, low birth weights — all of these point to Georgia as being one of the unhealthiest places to live in the developed world. We should be the very population calling for better, more affordable health care. And yet, consistently, we have elected people who wish to take even more from us.

Newly elected Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens may grudgingly concede that he "can't do squat about Obamacare," but there are plenty of things he can (and likely will) do to make our already pathetic rankings even worse. For instance, one of the insurance commissioner's roles is to mandate what must be included in the policies sold in the state. Should all policies be required to cover preventative measures, such as mammograms? Hudgens thinks not. Policies that don't cover preventative procedures might be less expensive than ones that do, but they also result in fewer people detecting illness in its early stages.

Hudgens argues that fewer mandates equal more choice for consumers, but the main effect will be to allow employers to offer workers policies that cover a shrinking number of procedures. As premiums rise and coverage goes down, Hudgens' plan is to allow insurers to offer us even less for our money. Hey, Georgia! Think we could make it even lower on the life expectancy ranking list? Woo-hoo! Cancer for everyone!

There are many reasons our health is so poor in Georgia. We smoke more, exercise less, have worse air quality and are fatter than many of our countrymen. But we also have less access to health care and insurance, and we spend more on that insurance than our healthier brethren. Insurance for the self-employed (freelancers, entrepreneurs, farmers) is notoriously hard to come by in Georgia (we were recently listed on a Business Insider list of the "12 States Where It's Impossible to Get Health Insurance"). In every way, this makes us less competitive — not just in terms of the human cost, but also the economic cost to businesses and individuals.

If Obamacare is allowed to stand, it will solve some of these problems, but not until 2014. By that time, Georgia could be a lot sicker and poorer. And while the Republicans call for a repeal of Obamacare, they fail to give us any indications of what the alternative might be. To them, there is no crisis.

We can just hear the backlash now: If you don't like it, move to Libya. They have a point: You might end up healthier if you do.

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