Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock face Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Georgia's Jan. 5 US Senate runoff elections. If Democrats win, the state of health care in Georgia could drastically improve. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock face Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Georgia's Jan. 5 US Senate runoff elections. If Democrats win, the state of health care in Georgia could drastically improve. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Georgians are overwhelmingly concerned about health care. But unless Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are elected to the US Senate on Jan. 5, those concerns may go unanswered.

In the weeks since Nov. 3, Georgia has been at the center of a political firestorm, as it has become clear that a pair of runoff elections in the state—set to take place Jan. 5—will determine majority control of the US Senate.

At the heart of this runoff, and underlining the importance of a Democratic Senate majority, is the impact these results will have on the American healthcare system and the fate of many of the patients my colleagues and I care for.

By most health metrics, Georgia is one of the sickest states in the nation. This poor healthcare ranking is largely driven by our state’s high uninsured rates and concomitant challenges in healthcare costs and access. These issues are only magnified in rural parts of the state, where the percent of people lacking insurance coverage is even higher, the effects of the recession on unemployment are more pronounced, and under-resourced rural health systems have been decimated.

Luckily, there are measures available to Georgia to arrest this public health freefall. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows states to expand Medicaid, which in Georgia could help cover approximately half a million people currently living without health insurance. It would provide much needed funding to shore up public health departments, mental health services, and rural hospitals across the state. It would also give half a million Georgians basic preventative healthcare at a time when we need it most. 

Sorting Fact From Fiction: Sign Up for COURIER’s newsletter.

Individuals without health insurance are much more likely to delay or avoid healthcare. They may shy away from being tested for COVID-19 or continue working despite feeling ill. When they do seek care, it tends to be through a patchwork of public hospitals, local health departments, and community health centers, many of which have had their resources slashed in recent years. 

The pandemic has resulted in a stark state budget shortfall, which the Republican-led Georgia legislature has responded to with cuts so deep that the threadbare safety net system can barely support even the most basic care for our patients. This same Republican leadership has also refused desperately needed federal funding assistance, despite skyrocketing need.

In the general election, nearly 80% of Georgians indicated that healthcare was an essential consideration when deciding which presidential candidate to vote for. The people of Georgia elected Joe Biden. We even counted twice, just to be sure.

The people of Georgia elected Joe Biden in order to protect our healthcare, defend the ACA, and expand on the goals of that seminal healthcare law, including expanding access, protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions, and mounting a robust response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We now need to give the Biden administration the tools they need for the job we elected them to do. 

WATCH: Americans With Pre-Existing Conditions Sound Off on the Potential Repeal of the ACA

Primary among these tools is Democratic control in the Senate, crucial to move key healthcare policy in this fraught moment where millions of American lives hang in the balance.

Electing Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff is a necessary extension of electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It’s not enough to buy the car, you have to make sure it has the gas so it can actually take you where you want to go.

The healthcare issues championed by the Biden administration are not just good for Georgia, but good for the entire country, particularly during the most deadly public health crisis of our generation. The Republican Senate candidates, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, have repeatedly vowed to repeal the ACA, which could cause 20 million Americans to lose insurance coverage, yank protections for 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, and rob Georgia of the option to expand Medicaid to protect our most vulnerable. 

The idea of decreasing healthcare access for a significant percentage of Americans makes no sense logically or fiscally. The idea of continuing to espouse these goals in the midst of a pandemic makes no sense morally.

RELATED: COVID-19 Can Cause Lasting Heart and Brain Damage. Republicans Still Want to Repeal the ACA.

Furthermore, a fully-powered Biden administration, backed up by a Democratic majority in the Senate, translates into a robust COVID stimulus package, addressing key public health factors like unemployment, housing costs, food insecurity, and education. The health of a population is determined by far more than access to medications, surgeries, or therapies, and in this moment, we deserve an administration—and a legislature—that understands the importance of a broader approach.

Georgia came into this election as one of the sickest states in the nation. We understand all too well what’s wrong with the healthcare system and our approach to public health legislation. But now it’s our responsibility to build a healthier future for the entire country, and the cure is at the ballot box. 

The eyes of the nation have turned to Georgia. It’s time for us to lead.