SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Georgia’s Democratic senators are promising to fulfill one of their campaign promises to expand Medicaid.

“We must expand Medicaid because people are literally dying, especially the working poor,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock.

He recently appeared with Sen. Jon Ossoff and several other senators to say they are working to get a measure to expand Medicaid in the reconciliation bill now slowly making its way through Congress.

Warnock says up to 600,000 Georgians could benefit from an expansion of the program. He says the pandemic has magnified the gap between those who can afford health insurance and those who have none.

“This pandemic taught us lessons that we should have learned a long time ago,” said Warnock, “that we’re as close in our humanity as a cough.”

Medicaid provides health care benefits to those who qualify by income. The program is administered by the state but receives millions in federal funding each year.

When the Affordable Care Act passed more than a decade ago, states were urged to cover more people under Medicaid. States were also promised that for a number of years, the federal government would pay 100% of the costs to cover the extra people and then would pay 90% after that.

But 12 states, including Georgia, refused to expand the coverage, saying, for one thing, it would ultimately cost states too much.

“Access to health care shouldn’t depend on where you live or who you are,” said Ossoff.

He said Georgia has lost billions in federal money that would have paid as part of the expansion and that much of that money would have gone to hospitals that provide care to the uninsured.

Instead, Ossoff said, hospitals have still had to treat the patients but have not received the funding to offset the costs.

“Nine hospitals in Georgia have closed in 11 years,” said Ossoff. “And these hospitals have closed, in large part, because our state’s political leaders have refused to expand Medicaid.”

The senators say the only solution is putting an expansion in a new federal bill that would offer funding to recipients who need Medicaid.

But Georgia Congressman Buddy Carter, a Republican from District 1, said “this is why reconciliation is so dangerous because they add everything to it in order to get their policies essentially passed and this is nothing more than another policy.”

Carter says Medicaid was not originally designed to be a massive insurance program but rather as a safety net for those in the greatest need.

“Now what they want to do is they want to federalize Medicaid,” said Carter. “It should be held at the state level, it should not be federalized. That is essentially what’s happening.

“This is nothing more than socialist medicine, and that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Carter says the state has come up with a plan to cover additional people, but it would use different financial guidelines than the Affordable Care Act and the state of Georgia had to seek a waiver for that. It was granted under the Trump administration but rescinded when President Joe Biden took office.

He says granting the waiver would get more people coverage, but it would not be the number that senators Warnock and Ossoff say need coverage now.

“We’re going to keep pushing, to make sure that, in the end of the day, this is still in the package,” said Warnock.