Not supporting Medicaid a disservice to taxpayers

By Craig FordBy Craig Ford

One of the signs that our economy is still struggling to recover is the fact that over the past five years, Medicaid enrollment in Alabama has increased more than 20 percent. It means that more and more Alabamians are struggling to meet their basic needs.

Last year, 52 percent of the babies born in Alabama were born under care paid for by Medicaid. Additionally, 70 percent of payments to Alabama nursing homes came from Medicaid.

Medicaid is a critical part of our economy and essential to providing healthy births and long-term care to thousands of Alabamians.

But under current state leaders, Medicaid has nearly collapsed for two years in a row.

Last year, the only thing that saved Medicaid was borrowing $437 million from the state’s savings account. Regardless of whether you supported borrowing that money, we all agree that we should have never been put in that position in the first place.

This year, Medicaid is once again struggling to survive.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Don Williamson, the state’s Health Officer, announced that beginning Oct. 1, Medicaid will no longer provide over-the-counter medication to Medicaid patients.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it can have a dramatic impact on both the health of these patients and the costs of health care in Alabama.

For example, many doctors prescribe Aspirin to treat high blood pressure and other heart conditions. aspirin has even been known to stop heart attacks. But if a Medicaid patient does not have aspirin because he/she could no longer afford it, then that patient will develop more significant health problems or suffer a heart attack.

So what is cheaper – a $5 bottle of aspirin or open-heart surgery?

I don’t blame Dr. Williamson for making this decision. He has to do the best he can with the funding our state legislature gives him. It is wrong that state leaders have put him in the position to have to make this decision.

I believe state leaders are making some serious mistakes when it comes to our state’s Medicaid program.

Not only should we be doing more to protect our funding of Medicaid, we should also be participating in the federal Medicaid expansion program.

The health care industry is 11 percent of Alabama’s economy. Expanding Medicaid would create thousands of new jobs and bring in more than a billion dollars in economic growth. It would also provide health care to more than 300,000 uninsured Alabamians and help reduce the number of aborted pregnancies, given how many expecting mothers depend on Medicaid for their prenatal care and birth.

So it is not just the smart thing to do, it is also the right thing to do.

But you should think about it this way. For the first three years, the federal government would pay for 100 percent of the costs for the expansion. After that, Alabama would be required to pay a small portion until we max out at only 10 percent of the costs by the year 2020.

And at no point would we be obligated to participate in the program. That means that we could participate for the first three years when the federal government is paying all of the costs, and then drop out when we have to start paying if we can’t afford to continue the expansion.

Regardless of whether or not we expand Medicaid, our tax dollars are paying for the expansion. But if the governor and legislative leaders continue to refuse the expansion, then our tax dollars will be used to pay for Medicaid in other states instead of here at home.

I think that’s wrong. It’s our money, and we should get it back.

Medicaid is so critical to our state, to our economy and to the lives of thousands of Alabamians. Hundreds of thousands of expecting mothers, the elderly and disabled living in nursing homes, and low-income families around the state depend on Medicaid to survive. Hundreds of doctors throughout Alabama also depend on Medicaid to keep their practices open.

We should be doing everything we can to protect Medicaid and to expand this program while we can. Not doing so is a disservice to the taxpayers, and it leaves thousands of Alabamians and their doctors in dangerous and even life-threatening situations.

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