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Nathan Deal is having second thoughts about new health insurance plan

Gov. Nathan Deal is trying to soothe the unrest over his administration's controversial decision to go with a single insurer to manage health care for 650,000 public employees and their families.

Deal brushed aside the push by state Superintendent John Barge, one of his GOP challengers, for an investigation into how Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia was awarded the lucrative contract. He called it a hollow "political shot" in an interview Thursday.

But what he said next was more important:

"It's more important to deal with the problems on hand. We are doing that and we'll have an announcement very soon about some proposed changes to the state health benefit plan that we think will address some of the concerns that teachers and state employees have experienced."

Some quick context: UnitedHealthcare, one of two companies that held the main contract until this month, is at the center of a lawsuit that has challenged the insurance switch. The company argued the Department of Community Health had engaged in “state-sponsored bid-rigging” and that the switch would lead to higher fees and less options.

Deal has tried to distance himself from the decision, but he appointed the leaders and the board members of the community health department. The governor said Thursday the complaints about higher costs are partly linked to new costs under the Affordable Care Act, and said the switch came after a "long and protracted" process.

The health care package also includes a nod to the pro-life crowd. By executive order, the insurance plan offers no coverage for abortions.

But Deal said that a move was underfoot to restore other health care options:

"It would be nice and I wish that we did have more than one provider available at this point in time. And we'll work to make sure we did have more than one provider available at this point in time. We'll work to make sure that does occur in the future ... Hopefully there will be more options provided."

Whatever choice he makes, it makes for an awkward decision. His attorney Randy Evans also represents UnitedHealthcare in its legal challenge.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.