By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
We’ve all heard about the Medicaid program, but what exactly is Medicaid and why is it so important?
Medicaid is a health and long-term care program that provides critical health services to low-income families, children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with disabilities.
It isn’t just the poor who rely on Medicaid for their healthcare. Of the 26,000 Alabamians currently living in nursing homes, over 70 percent of them (18,200 to be specific) receive assistance from Medicaid, while 51 percent of babies born in Alabama were born under care provided by Medicaid. In fact, over a quarter of Alabama’s population is eligible for Medicaid.
To say that Medicaid is critical to our healthcare system would be an understatement. And yet, this year our Medicaid program is in danger of collapsing because of the budget cuts forced through the legislature by the Republican Supermajority.
The state’s Medicaid program is jointly funded by both the state and federal governments. For every dollar the state budgets for Medicaid, the federal government matches that with another two dollars. But federal law requires the state’s Medicaid program to provide certain services and to provide care to certain groups in exchange for these matching funds.
Earlier this year, Dr. Don Williamson, the state’s Health Officer, wrote an editorial warning that if the state did not budget at least $602 million for Medicaid, then the state would fail to provide the required services and would lose its federal matching money. If the state loses its matching money, the Medicaid program would collapse and the more one million Alabamians who rely on Medicaid would lose their healthcare.
Despite these warnings, the Republican leadership in our state’s legislature failed to pass a budget that fully funded the Medicaid program. Instead of doing the job they were elected to do, the Republicans in the Alabama legislature chose to pass the buck to you, the voter, by requiring a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to borrow enough money from the oil and gas trust fund to fund the program. If this amendment fails next month, then the governor will have two options: either call a special session of the legislature to try to find more money or prorate every program, department, and agency in the state budgets by 12 percent, which would leave Medicaid $70 million short of the $602 million needed to avoid disaster.
Let me be clear about what proration and the loss of federal matching money would mean to the public health and the state’s economy.
Without Medicaid, those 18,200 elderly seniors would either be kicked out of their nursing homes or their families would have to find a new way to pay for their care. Half the pregnant mothers in Alabama would not be able to pay for their child’s birth, either forcing them to have their children at home or go into bankruptcy. And without Medicaid, 43 percent of Alabama’s children would lose their health insurance. And given that 11 percent of all jobs are in the private healthcare sector, these cuts to Medicaid would result in massive layoffs that would ripple throughout our economy.
We are on the brink of disaster. Medicaid is crucial to our public health and our economy, and it must fully funded!
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader of the State House of Representatives. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.