Leaders must find way to fund Medicaid

Published 8:37 pm Wednesday, April 6, 2016

By Glenn C. Sisk
Sisk is the Chairman of the Alabama Hospital Association.

With one vote, legislators declared to the people of Alabama their willingness to risk crippling a strong health care system rather than doing what is necessary to adequately fund it.

Earlier this week the legislature overrode Gov. Bentley’s veto of an underfunded General Fund, leaving the state with yet another patchwork General Fund that does not adequately provide for essential state services. Medicaid is underfunded by $85 million, the biggest hole in the FY2017 General Fund Budget.

What does this mean?  Medicaid will have to make huge cuts. These cuts will likely come in the form of dramatic cuts to physician payments, payments that currently barely cover costs.  They will probably also result in the elimination of Medicaid’s optional programs, which include prescription drugs for the aged, blind and disabled. It may surprise you to learn that one of the optional programs is prescription coverage for adults, but it’s true, and it’s now one of the items on the potential chopping block. That’s right, life-saving medications used by thousands of Alabamians could no longer be available after Oct. 1!  I’m not sure how prescriptions made it to the optional list in the first place, but I would never consider them optional to keeping people healthy.

And, what does the Medicaid crisis mean to the average Alabamian?  More than you may think. Even if you are not one of the almost one million children and elderly citizens who depend on Medicaid for their health care services, you will still be affected if the budget gap remains.  Let me explain.

If Medicaid has to make significant cuts to physician payments, many of these physicians, particularly those who serve a large number of Medicaid patients, would be forced out of business and maybe out of Alabama. Without adequate physician coverage, the state would risk being out of compliance with federal requirements to receive matching funds. This would collapse the program, and all providers serving Medicaid patients would be at risk, including hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies, home health agencies and more. In fact, two of the hospitals that would be at greatest risk are the state’s children’s hospitals; approximately two-thirds of their patients are covered by Medicaid.

Other rural and inner city hospitals would also be dramatically affected by a collapse of Medicaid and would have to cut services, cut staff … or in the worst case scenario close their doors. And when a hospital closes, it reduces care for everyone. Your insurance card won’t help if the providers you depend on aren’t there.

Again, I would urge Alabama’s lawmakers to go back to the drawing board and find a way to fund Medicaid and other critical state services. Alabama has already lost eight hospitals over the last six years, and we can’t risk losing others.  Our leaders must find a way to fund Medicaid to ensure access to health care for all Alabamians.