Bentley hints at special session for Medicaid

Published 8:11 pm Thursday, March 10, 2016

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Gov. Robert Bentley is hinting that lawmakers could be back in special session if they don’t pass a budget that provides more money for Medicaid.

Bentley has promised to veto any budget without the additional $100 million Medicaid officials say is needed to avoid cuts to services and reimbursement rates and continue the planned shift to managed care.

“If the agency is cut $100 million, we lose the progress that we have made to remodel and streamline the way Medicaid works. A special session is an option, but the Governor is hopeful the Senate version of the General Fund will not pass the House,” Bentley spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis said Thursday.

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The Alabama House of Representatives will vote Tuesday on a budget that gives Medicaid an additional $15 million, but not the $100 million the agency has requested and Bentley wants.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said Bentley should not expect any additional funding.

“I’d say he better plan a special session, because I do not see any way we are going to come up with more than the $15 million that came out of the House. There is no appetite for taxes. There is no appetite for taking money from education, so I don’t see where the money is going to come from,” Marsh, R-Anniston, said.

Marsh suggested that before calling a special session the governor should let the budget pass and “soak in and see if there if there’s an outcry from the public.”

The dispute over Medicaid funding could be a repeat of last year’s long-running general fund budget fight that led to two special sessions before lawmakers approved a 25-cent cigarette tax and other smaller measures.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid last month approved Alabama’s waiver to switch its Medicaid program to a managed care approach.

Patients, beginning Oct. 1, will get their care through one of 11 locally-managed regional care organizations. Proponents said the switch should tap down on costs by managing patents’ medical conditions.

Black lawmakers have vowed a filibuster when the budget comes to the House floor on Tuesday as they push for additional Medicaid funding.

Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, noted that children make up more than 500,000 of the one million people on Medicaid in Alabama.

“We have the highest infant mortality rate of any state in the nation and now we don’t even want to fund Medicaid. There is something wrong with that thinking,” Knight said.

Sen. Trip Pittman, chairman of the Senate General Fund Committee, said he saw slim chance of boosting Medicaid funding this session.

“Right now everybody is kind of locked up. I think part of that challenge is that people really have to see that there is going to be an impact. It’s the same thing we had last year, a consensus to do nothing,” Pittman, R-Montrose, said.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard said that he anticipated a special session on Medicaid “at some point.” He said health care costs in Medicaid have grown to consume nearly 40 percent of the General Fund budget and show no sign of slowing down.

Hubbard said lawmakers are working with the revenue available and many do not want to cut other agencies again for the sake of Medicaid.

“All that does is create a crisis in other agencies that people depend on. I don’t think that’s the answer. The governor’s budget took money from education. That’s not the answer,” Hubbard said.