Governor Bentley Responds to Pressure to Expand Alabama Medicaid Program

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Progressive Democrats Plan Protest Rally Saturday in Birmingham

By Glynn Wilson

The pressure is building for conservative states like Alabama and Texas to join the rest of the nation in getting onboard to help citizens without insurance obtain health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, for economic reasons.

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Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

Alabama is among the few states that has ceded its responsibility and authority to take care of its own to the federal government, all because tea party Republicans have driven the debate to oppose as “socialist” the very idea of insuring poor and even middle class working people who still can’t afford health insurance under the capitalist system set up by Congress that allows the private health insurance companies to continue profiting from illness.

It is being reported that Texas Governor Rick Perry has agreed to enter into negotiations with the majority Republican legislature to expand Medicaid in that state, even though Perry had publicly turned down any thought of accepting any provisions from Obamacare.

While the national media has focused for months on the problems with the overloaded Healthcare.gov Website, the system appears to be working well in places like Breathitt County in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky.

While the rumor mill in Alabama is rife with the story that Governor Bentley plans to opt in to Medicaid and Obamacare next year after he is assured of reelection without any political opposition on the right in the Republican Primary, to take advantage of the billions in federal money that could have helped save hundreds of lives in Alabama this year alone if not for the conservative Republican opposition, the governor appeared at the nonprofit Phoenix Services in Huntsville on Tuesday and continued to try to explain his opposition.

“We are improving our present Medicaid program,” Bentley reportedly said, according to a Huntsville television news station. “We’ve totally redone that program and we’re going to make it a workable program.”

“Our goal is to create more jobs in the state of Alabama like here at Phoenix or other places and have fewer people on Medicaid – that’s our ultimate goal,” the governor said.

Bentley has repeatedly said the state can’t afford to take on the full amount for the estimated 300,000 new participants once the federal matching funds start dropping in 2017.

But David Bronner, a financial expert and head of the Retirement System of Alabama, has been publishing op eds across the state saying Medicaid expansion would result in $4.5 billion in federal money coming to the state over the next three years at zero cost to the state, and not expanding it would cost the economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

He has described Bentley’s opposition to the Medicaid expansion as “incredibly short-sighted and incredibly naive” and “putting his political agenda ahead of what is good for Alabama.”

A study commissioned by the Alabama Hospital Association shows the state could create anywhere from 24,600 to nearly 52,000 jobs between 2014 and 2020 if it takes part in the expansion. Of Alabama’s population of 4.8 million, about 531,000 would be newly eligible for Medicaid under the proposed expansion. Of those, 332,000 are currently uninsured according to a UAB Study, The Kauffman Foundation and state records.

The total cost for the expansion for Alabama is estimated at $771 million between 2014 and 2020 according to the preferred scenario in UAB’s study. But under that same scenario, tax revenue would increase by $1.7 billion leading to a potential positive net impact of $935 million on the state budget.

But the facts have so far not swayed Bentley, so a coalition of citizens is building to bring pressure to bear on the issue.

According to Edward Savela of the Progressive Democrats of America in Alabama, there will be a rally on the issue in Kelly Ingram Park in downtown Birmingham on Saturday at 2 p.m., one hour before the start of the SEC Championship game.

“Governor Bentley is refusing to take $11 billion in federal Medicaid funds, and is bluntly trying to destroy Obamacare. But in the process this irresponsible act will cost Alabama billions of dollars in business revenue, tens of thousands of jobs, and — most important — it will adversely affect the health of Alabama’s citizens, even directly causing premature death,” Savela said. “Bentley should embrace the economic growth these Medicaid funds represent, and the jobs. As a medical doctor, Bentley is turning his back on the health issues of Alabama citizens. And as a Christian, he is ignoring his own obligations to the poor and the sick.”

The rally is supported by Progressive Democrats of America, the Greater Birmingham Ministries and the Birmingham Metro Chapter of the NAACP. Speaker’s this week will feature Kim Denmark and her Walk Across America spiritual walk (now close to 4,000 miles) which is intended to attract attention to poverty, and issues surrounding economically disadvantaged communities.

But so far Bentley is sticking with his tea party supporters, trying to prevent opposition from the right in next year’s governor’s race.

“Expanding Medicaid is expanding an entitlement program and I can’t think of anything worse than expanding an entitlement program – I am totally against that,” Bentley said Tuesday in Huntsville.

In response, the Huntsville station quoted Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers, who countered the governor’s position.

“We believe without the expansion of Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of people in Alabama will continue to remain uninsured. This will put a strain on the health care system statewide,” Spillers said. “We believe it will also put us at a competitive disadvantage to those states that choose to expand. We also believe the economic impact of approximately $1.8 billion a year coming into our state would create a significant number of jobs and also improve the health care of thousands of people in Alabama.”

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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