The least of these…

August 29, 2014 chris
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Matthew 25 contains a description of the Last Judgment. In verses 32-41 it explains in parables, and I quote from the King James version as follows: “And the Lord shall answer and say unto them: Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done to the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.”

My father was a Methodist minister, and I heard him quote that scripture many times. Gov. Robert Bentley, a Baptist, has vowed to us that he is a religious man. If that is so, why is he refusing to follow God’s command and do the right and humane thing by expanding Medicaid eligibility to nearly a quarter-million uninsured and low-income citizens in our state?

It not only is the right thing for our uninsured who cannot afford it. Alabama’s refusal to expand Medicaid eligibility to 235,000 uninsured, low-income residents is hindering the state’s economic development efforts, experts argued at a recent conference focused on the state’s economic situation.

A senior vice-president for the Alabama Hospital Association recently argued that at least a dozen rural hospitals across the state have already closed and a dozen more could follow in the next few years.

In 2012, the average operating margins for rural Alabama hospitals was 1.1 percent, with 22 of these hospitals operating at a negative profit margin. This stems in part from the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid eligibility to residents making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

While Gov. Bentley has been sitting on his behind and doing nothing, 26 states and the District of Columbia have opted to widen Medicaid’s reach under the Affordable Care Act. Bentley and the state legislature refused the expansion on grounds that it will become too costly to sustain in the long run. According to a government study released in July, however, that decision by our governor will cost Alabama $3.63 billion in federal funding, 15,100 jobs and $2.6 billion in increased economic activity through 2017.

Without question, this action by Bentley will cause unnecessary suffering by the poor and uninsured in Alabama, because the closure of these hospitals will be mostly in the rural areas where many poor and uninsured live, leaving them with long drives to obtain expensive medical care.

In a state where we spend millions of tax dollars to support sports, it would seem reasonable that our state leaders could afford to care for those who can’t afford medical insurance. Isn’t that more important than getting free tickets to the Alabama and Auburn football games? 

Probably not.

The cost factor

I can’t report what the cost for Alabama would be, but lost revenue for North Carolina without the expansion would be $51 billion in federal payments over the next decade. Hospitals in the state would lose over $11 billion. That report comes as hospitals across the nation are laying off workers.

The health care sector cut 52,638 jobs nationally last year, making it second only to the financial industry in layoffs. 

As Josh Moon pointed out this past Sunday in The Montgomery Advertiser, Gov. Bentley’s decision would affect Alabama babies as more and more hospitals close their doors across poor and rural areas. This would cause more and more expectant mothers to go without the proper care that has helped our state lower its infant mortality rate.

“Already, some mothers are forced to drive dozens of miles across many counties, just to deliver their babies, forget emergencies and regular care,” wrote Moon.

Moon also reports that rural doctors are moving out of the poor counties because they cannot survive with a patient base that can’t pay its bills, and that with no income from Medicaid for many of those patients, there’s no choice left.

Josh and I writing alone can’t change the governor’s mind, but the medical profession, legislators, the remainder of the media in Alabama, and citizen phone calls can go a long way in helping him repent. Just dial information and ask for the governor’s office in Montgomery. It is important for us all, and don’t forget that Bentley is running for re-election.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent.