It is time to expand Medicaid and quit playing politics

Published 5:30 pm Monday, June 23, 2014

For over a year, we have been making the same request to Governor Bentley, and for over a year, our request has fallen on deaf ears: Alabama needs Medicaid Expansion. It’s time to put people over politics and accept the funding.

Across the nation, Republican Governors from Rick Scott in Florida to Scott Walker in Wisconsin to our very own Dr. Robert Bentley have held their hand in the face of their state’s neediest citizens in an attempt to play politics with the president.

We didn’t elect you to fight Obama. We elected you to lead this state and do what is best for our people. This state needs Medicaid expansion.

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Failing to expand Medicaid means three major problems for this state: our people don’t have health insurance coverage, our hospitals are closing, and we are missing out on needed jobs.

Under the Affordable Care Act with Medicaid expansion, states have the ability to accept Federal funds to cover those who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of three in Alabama, that is around $26,344. Everyone else would be eligible for federal subsidies to afford a private insurance plan, or would be able to get coverage from their employers.

According to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation that examined major cities across America with high poverty levels, uninsured rates are expected to drop by an average of 57 percent by 2016 in states that have expanded Medicaid.

In major cities located in states that did not expand Medicaid, uninsured rates would only drop by 30 percent. The study estimates that Medicaid expansion in those states would lead to an average decline in the rate of uninsured residents of 52 percent.

What all of these numbers boil down to show is that states that expand Medicaid are lowering the percentage of uninsured residents, which means that those individuals are able to receive the medical care they need.

When individuals are able to get the care they need and the bills get paid, the hospitals are able to operate in a more productive financial state.

In the past three years, ten hospitals across the state have closed their doors and many more are operating with negative numbers.

This means that Alabamians across the state are unable to get medical care, not just those on Medicare or Medicaid. When hospitals close, everyone has to travel further to get the care they need and the community loses a range of jobs at all levels.

Speaking of jobs, Alabama desperately needs more of them. We live in a state that shells out hundreds of millions of dollars for “economic expansion.” We use tax dollars to build factories and recruit businesses that promise 150 jobs here and 200 jobs there.

But we are unwilling to accept Medicaid expansion and create 30,700 new jobs at virtually no cost to the state. The number could even climb as high as 51,918 if all eligible Alabamians enroll in Medicaid.

Alabama is currently creating jobs at a slower rate than Mississippi. We are 49th in the nation in job creation and we are the only state to show an increase in the unemployment rate over the past year.

Expanding Medicaid and creating 30,700 new jobs would be enough to lower our unemployment rate to 4.7 percent, which would mean we have reached full employment.

When Governor Bentley campaigned in 2010, he promised not to accept a salary until the state reached full employment. He promised that he would help rebuild Alabama from the Great Recession. Expanding Medicaid would allow Bentley to fulfill his campaign promise from four years ago while heading into this year’s election season.

But Bentley would rather hold his hand in the face of needy Alabamians in attempt to hold his finger to President Obama. We need less partisan bickering and more protecting our people.

It’s time to expand Medicaid.