By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–For over a year, a bipartisan group of 17 states has been quietly collaborating with the Obama administration to help build a foundation for the health-care reform law’s success, according to a report in the Washington Post.
Unknown to many lawmakers Alabama is a member of the healthcare coalition.
The coalition of states lead by California have joined forces over the last 14 months to build a healthcare exchange based on the Affordable Healthcare Act also known as Obamacare.
“As Health Chairman I had no idea Alabama and California were collaborating on the implementation of Obamacare in our state,” said Representative Jim McClendon, (R-Springville).
Many senators and legislators feel they have been left in the dark as to the governor’s plan for the exchange.
According to the coalition’s website, Alabama is one of the founding states in “Enroll UX 2014 a public-private partnership between eight national and state health care foundations, the federal government, and 11 participating states.”
For over a year members of the House and Senate have tried to work with the governor to bring together legislation that would have created a joint commission for oversight of a healthcare exchange, however, the governor has blocked such efforts on every turn.
Senator Greg Reed (R-Jasper) fought to bring the legislation to fruition only to see it die due to the governor’s efforts at the Statehouse.
McClendon said, “There has been absolutely no meaningful communication between the legislative branch and the governor’s office on creation of the Health Exchange in Alabama. The Governor’s office has pointedly worked around lawmakers in the creation of Obamacare for Alabama.”
An insider in the administration who offered to speak off the record said, “The reason the Governor has wanted to control the creation of the healthcare exchange in Alabama is twofold, one he [The Governor] sees this as his legacy for the state and two, many on staff fear what might be said if all their activity comes to light.”
In fact according to contracts entered into by the state, over $15 million dollars has been spent to set up the Alabama healthcare exchange, much of it Federal dollars according to what has been told to the contract review committee. But there are those who question if money from state agencies like Medicaid and Public Health have also contributed to the project.
According to Enroll UX 2014’s website the Obama administration has been very active in the process of building the exchange with input from the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS), the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
According to The California Healthline the coalition, is being led by the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF).
Mark Smith, president of CHCF, said, “There’s no reason to leave this very important subject up to political vagaries and budget shortfalls.”
McClendon said, “I don’t know which would be worse for Alabama: taking guidance from California, or a Washington DC take over.”
Spokesperson for the Governor’s office, Jennifer Ardis, wrote in an email, “This was a multi-state collaborative effort to provide access to experts to discuss ease of use and identify the most customer-friendly approach if we were to build an exchange. This has nothing to do with liberal or conservative. It is an opportunity to get free advice on design options and has nothing to do with policy decisions nor does it commit us to anything.”
Ardis is the only member of the governor’s staff that responded to numerous calls.
Richard Fiore and Kathleen Healey (whose phone is answered as Alabama Healthcare Exchange) did not return repeated request for information.
On June 18, Enroll America and Enroll UX 2014 will co-sponsor a briefing on the project for a Washington policy and industry audience in Washington, DC. Listed as one of the speakers at this event is Richard Fiore, who in the invitation is listed as, Executive Director, Alabama Health Insurance Exchange.
Ardis says, “Governor Bentley believes we should wait until the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act before establishing an actual exchange. If Supreme Court justices overturn the Affordable Healthcare Act, as the Governor hopes they will, there will be no need to move forward with a federally mandated exchange. If the Supreme Court upholds the ACA, then Alabama will be ready to move forward with what is needed to comply.”
McClendon does not seem to agree with Ardis’ characterization. “The Governor’s representative, in speaking against the legislature’s model legislation, said the governor intended to wait till after the US Supreme Court ruled in June,” said McClendon, “Yet they are now advertising for bureaucrats to run Obamacare in Alabama.”
McClendon and others wonder about the full-throttle approach taken by the Bentley administration. There are also grave concerns over the secretive manner in which these operation have been carried out.
According to our insider, “The people in rural Alabama, who put the governor in office, are not going to understand the difference between, Obamacare and Bentleycare.”
McClendon says that many in the health industry also call what the governor is building as Bentleycare. McClendon says it would benefit all Alabamians, “for the Governor and the Legislature to work hand in hand.”
The website for the coalition can be viewed at http://www.ux2014.org/