Senator Reverend Warnock Welcomes Heather Payne, North Georgia ER Nurse Stuck in Health Care Coverage Gap as State of the Union Guest

Heather Payne is a native of Dalton, Georgia who found herself in the Medicaid coverage gap while working as a traveling emergency room and labor and delivery nurse

Heather suffered a series of small strokes in the fall of 2022 and can no longer work as an emergency room or labor and delivery nurse

She is still without health care coverage as she waits to get approved for disability insurance and cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket for essential medical procedures

Senator Reverend Warnock has long championed Medicaid expansion: The senator was arrested in 2014 protesting the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid and introduced a federal fix to close the coverage gap

Senator Reverend Warnock: “Heather’s story is an important example of why Georgia needs to close the Medicaid coverage gap, and why Washington must stay focused on making it a reality.”

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) announced he will welcome Dalton, Georgia resident Heather Payne as his guest at President Biden’s State of the Union address to Congress on March 7th. Heather is one of the over 640,000 Georgians in the health care coverage gap. Her story underscores the moral urgency to finally close the health care gap and expand Medicaid in Georgia and in the nine other non-expansion states.

Heather worked as a traveling nurse for over a decade where she worked throughout Georgia and across the country serving patients and saving lives, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, while she was providing care to others, Heather fell into the health care coverage gap herself—making too much to qualify for Medicaid but not earning enough to cover the cost of her health insurance. Her health care options were anywhere between $500 to $1,200 a month. In fall of 2022, Heather started getting headaches and noticed actions as simple as swallowing water were difficult. After saving up to pay out-of-pocket to visit a neurologist, she was told she’d had a series of small strokes. Heather is currently trying to get on Social Security Disability Insurance (which can take years) and still has no health care coverage. She cannot work as an Emergency Room or Labor and Delivery nurse (which often requires intensive 12-hour shifts that she can no longer manage) and she is putting off essential medical procedures because she cannot afford to pay out of pocket.

“I’m proud to bring Dalton resident, Heather Payne, as my State of the Union guest as the President lays out his vision for strengthening affordable health care access across the country,” said Senator Reverend Warnock.“Heather’s story is an important example of why Georgia needs to close the Medicaid coverage gap, and why Washington must stay focused on making it a reality. There are over 640,000 Georgians with stories like hers whose lives would change if Georgia followed the lead of 40 states who have provided health care options to all their constituents.”

“Medicaid expansion would save lives, keep hospitals open, create jobs, AND deliver more federal support to our state,” continued Senator Warnock.“These are all wins. That’s why I was arrested in the State Capitol in 2014 fighting for this and why it’s a top priority for me in the Senate. I hope leaders in my state keep working to make this a reality for the more than 640,000 Georgians who would benefit.”

Senator Reverend Warnock has long championed efforts to expand affordable health care access, starting with his advocacy to close the health care coverage gap in Georgia. In addition to pushing for solutions to close the coverage gap, the Senator is committed to preserving and protecting access to health care for the most vulnerable. In 2022, the Senator led a delegation of Georgia lawmakers in urging the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) to provide tools to Medicaid non-expansion states like Georgia to help them protect health care access for Medicaid enrollees who lose eligibility after the public health emergency declaration ends. Last year, Senator Warnock also urged the CMS to ensure that the gains made in reducing the number of uninsured children are not lost as states begin to unwind some Medicaid policies that have been in place since the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency. In January, Senator Warnock made his first visit to Georgia’s legislative session as a U.S. Senator to meet with Georgia state lawmakers in both parties and discuss their priorities. During his visit he touched on several issues impacting Georgians but highlighted the need to expand Medicaid to close the health care gap for more than 640,000 Georgians.