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Sewell calls for Ivey to expand Medicaid in light of pandemic

Just before Alabama Gov. Kay issued a statewide “stay at home” order Friday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, called on the governor to expand Medicaid in the state in light of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

With mandatory closures resulting from “shelter in place” orders across the state, as well as a myriad of lesser restrictions, the Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) recently reported that nearly 94,000 Alabamians have filed for unemployment benefits over the last three weeks as businesses are forced to lay-off or furlough workers, whose employer-based health coverage is then thrown into jeopardy.

“Ultimately, the crisis before us is a matter of public health,” Sewell said. “Fighting and beating this virus depends on Alabamians’ ability to receive the testing and care they need. Uninsured Alabamians – many of whom have lost their jobs and health coverage as a result of the COVID-19 crisis – should not be forced to choose between getting tested, treated and seeking care to protect themselves, their families and our communities from further spread of the virus and being faced with hundreds of dollars of medical bills.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focused on national health issues and policy, projects that the cost of inpatient admissions for the current coronavirus could exceed $20,000, which Sewell called “an extraordinary financial constraint that could prevent Alabamians from seeking testing or treatment, potentially furthering the spread of the virus.”

“With President [Donald] Trump’s refusal to reopen the Obamacare marketplace during these difficult times, it is more important than ever that Governor Ivey and the Alabama State Legislature act swiftly to expand Medicaid,” Sewell said. “Not only would expansion provide affordable healthcare for more than 340,000 Alabamians, it would also serve as an economic boon, adding about $1.7 billion a year to our economy. All Alabamians stand to benefit from Medicaid expansion and, especially, the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Sewell and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-AL, jockeyed to have language included in the recently-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that would have provided holdout states looking to expand Medicaid with the same federal match as early expanders, but that proposal was shot down by Senate Republicans.

Still, Sewell and Jones are working with Democratic leadership to include the provision in future coronavirus relief packages.

According to Sewell’s release, the state has “one of the most bare-bones Medicaid programs  in the country,” which excludes adults without children,  as well as parents making 18 percent or less of the federal poverty line, less than $3,000 annually for a family of two – expanding Medicaid would open to door for Alabamians making up to $23,336 a year for a household of two, about 138 percent of the poverty line.

According to U.S. Census data, about 32,000 more Alabamians were uninsured in 2018 than in 2017, a number that is likely to rise as “Alabama’s inaction on Medicaid expansion continues during this economic recession,” the statement read.