Georgia remembers Mickey Channell, the ‘Father of PeachCare’

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Twenty years ago, a bill arrived in the Georgia House that would have set up a private insurance program for children newly eligible for government coverage.

The legislation had the backing of Gov. Zell Miller, and it had passed the Senate.

Consumer advocate Linda Lowe and others, though, started talking with a member of the House Appropriations Committee about problems in the set-up of the proposed program.

Rep. Mickey Channell listened to what they had to say and eventually came around to their point of view. He bucked a powerful governor, with whom he was often politically allied, in supporting a different program for the kids – one that mirrored the existing Medicaid program. It would cover more children at less cost.

“When Mickey decided it was the right thing to do, he would really put himself out there and take personal risks,’’ Lowe recalls.

Channell’s support of an alternate bill made the difference. He persuaded his fellow House members to get behind a ‘’PeachCare for Kids’’ program that eventually passed the Legislature. It has covered roughly 120,000 to 200,000 Georgia children annually.

Robert Melvin “Mickey” Channell Jr. died last week at age 76 at his Greene County home. He represented the area in the Legislature from 1993 to 2015, when he retired for health reasons.

Channell knew the inner workings of Medicaid and PeachCare better than any other legislator. His knowledge and analysis were invaluable to a journalist – myself — wading into these hyper-complicated matters. If he shared a thought with a reporter, it could be trusted completely. I called him “Mickey” like everyone else.

He didn’t come from a health care background.

He left the University of Georgia during his senior year to take care of the family business after his father died. He later owned a string of convenience stores. And he eventually did earn his degree – finishing up 28 years later than originally planned.

He was an avid golfer and an unwavering UGA Bulldogs fan. He also was a fan of one of Georgia’s most beloved humorists, the late AJC columnist Lewis Grizzard, said Channell’s longtime colleague, state Rep. Butch Parrish of Swainsboro.

Parrish grew emotional last week when talking about his close friend.

“On issues, he was very passionate about what he believed,’’ Parrish told GHN.

“He was the go-to guy on health issues,’’ Parrish said. “He had a passion for health care. Mickey was known as the ‘Father of PeachCare.’ ’’

Parrish noted that Channell supported the formation of the Department of Public Health as a separate state agency, after it had been buried for years in a larger government department. He also steered legislation that supported volunteer doctors serving in charity clinics across the state.

A supporter of rural health care, Channell played a major role in the survival of Minnie G. Boswell Memorial Hospital, which has been replaced by a new facility, St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital.

The funeral was held Friday at First United Methodist Church in Greensboro, where Channell was a longtime member.

Greensboro Herald publisher and editor Carey Williams told the Athens Banner-Herald that Channell made himself accessible to the people in his district.

“He was one of the few representatives that when the General Assembly wasn’t in session, he had an office in Greensboro where you could come and see him. Most of them, when the General Assembly is over, you can’t find them. He loved his job,” Williams said.

David Tatum, a Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta vice president, says that on health care, “Mickey absolutely got it. He was always compassionate and looked out for kids. He understood how Medicaid worked and was financed better than anyone I ever dealt with.’’

Of all of Mickey Channell’s legislative accomplishments, Lowe says, “he was most proud of PeachCare.”

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