BY THE NUMBERS
* 1.7 million: Uninsured Georgians
* 387,000: Georgians on nongroup insurance
* 203,000: Georgia seniors eligible to get brand-name drugs for half the costs under health reform
* 106,000: Small businesses in Georgia eligible for tax credits under health reform
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
By Ashley Speagle
ATLANTA -- Legislators tried and failed again to get a question on the November ballot allowing Georgians to vote on whether they want to participate in federal health care legislation.
A similar bill in the state Senate failed last week, but both bills' sponsors asked for reconsideration, which needs to happen before Friday when all bills must pass to the other chamber or they simply die.
On Sunday night, the U.S. House passed a health care reform bill already approved by the Senate. The legislation, expected to be signed into law today by President Barack Obama, expands Medicaid coverage and says insurers can't deny coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions, among other provisions.
In the Georgia Legislature, the debate lasted hours before legislators voted along mostly partisan lines, 111-61, to defeat House Resolution 1086.
"The debate is over, they passed the bill last night, and I don't think this one is going anywhere either," said Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany.
"We've got too much to do with a budget deficit, transportation, education and ethics, and here we are talking about what Congress did," said Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus.
Georgia Republicans also take issue with the federal bill's requirement that almost all citizens purchase health insurance in 2014, calling it an unconstitutional mandate on a state issue.
"Our federal government is going to require you to purchase a product or go to jail," said Rep. Jeff May, R-Monroe. "It's the mom-and-pop shops like mine that will bear the brunt of this, and unemployment is going to go up."
Rep. May owns and operates Computronics Enterprises, a printer sales and service company.
Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, said the requirement to purchase health insurance "could be used as a precedent to mandate citizens to buy other products."
"I will continue to stand with my colleagues in fighting against federal mandates and federal encroachment," said Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, in a media release.
Several Democrats argued that health is included in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, making health care a federal concern.
"If you think it is not about life, then you try to go to the hospital without health care," said Rep. Dukes. "This is a life-and-death issue; if you don't have it, you die."
Rep. Randal Mangham, D-Decatur, pointed out that Georgia may hurt its chances to receive other federal funding if it tries to opt out of the federal health care reform, money that could help stabilize or create more jobs.
Lawmakers continued the state-rights debate in the Senate and passed a bill that would allow the state to delay compliance with federal energy programs.