Georgia House speaker touts rural growth, cautious on health care plan

House Speaker David Ralston on Wednesday did not endorse or criticize congressional Republicans’ first public draft of changes to federal health care policy, but he did offer one piece of advice.

“I hope they take the time to get it right,” said Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican. “I hope they process it and give it time to get it right.”

Republican leaders in the U.S. House this week rolled out a plan to revise the Affordable Care Act. Called the American Health Care Act, the bill would keep Obamacare’s guarantee of coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and would allow parents to continue to keep children under 26 on their coverage.

But it would scrap the individual mandate and make major changes to the tax credit system now available for insurance coverage.

Ralston said he has not studied the proposal in-depth, but he does see one area that worries him.

“I am concerned that there is the potential in the proposal to hurt those states that chose to exercise what I think is the prudent route of not expanding Medicaid,” Ralston told the Atlanta Press Club. “I’m a little concerned by that, but I don’t have enough details yet to address that specific question.”

Changes to federal health care policy could have major implications for Georgia.

“From a budget standpoint, we’ll be keeping a very close eye” on Congress, Ralston said.

Ralston’s original concerns about expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — that it’s too expensive and too far removed from Georgia control — remain, he said.

“Each state could best design its own Medicaid program to suit its own population, and that was part of the problem with Medicaid expansion,” he said.

An additional problem, he said “was the potential the state would be left out on the hook for costs down the road.”

Ralston also promoted a pair of House initiatives introduced this session on the future of transit and rural development. The House has proposed two separate commissions to recommend legislation in future years. The speaker was particularly focused on his plan to boost rural Georgia.

“This fact is inescapable,” he said. “Rural Georgia has not seen the positive results of growth and faces challenges, very real challenges, to its future. We have talked about this for too long. It is time now to make a priority of rural economic development in Georgia.”

The House Rural Development Council will travel across the state to “give this the attention it deserves and needs.”

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