By House Minority Leader Craig Ford
I don’t envy Gov. Bentley. He has a tough job to do, and has had to make some tough choices over the past two years. But one of the choices he has made should not have been tough at all. And, yet, he took months to make his choice, flip-flopped on that choice, and ultimately made the wrong decision.
I’m talking about the governor’s decision not to expand the state’s Medicaid program and to give control of our state’s health insurance exchange to the federal government when we could have taken charge of it.
Gov. Bentley said he opposed expanding Medicaid because he believes we cannot afford it. But he could not be more wrong.
First, the expansion of Medicaid would be paid for entirely by the federal government for the first few years. After the year 2020, the federal government would still be paying for 90% of the expansion.
A 9-to-1 match is an easy and obvious investment to make. Especially since our federal tax dollars are paying for the expansion anyway. Gov. Bentley is not saving us money by choosing not to expand Alabama’s Medicaid program. We will still have to pay for it with our federal tax dollars. But instead of the money coming back to Alabama, our money will pay for the expansion in other states.
There is another reason why the governor should have chosen to expand the state’s Medicaid program.
Just before the deadline to make the decision was reached, the University of Alabama at Birmingham issued a report that said Alabama could raise a billion dollars in new revenue without raising taxes if we expanded the state’s Medicaid program.
How is that possible?
Doctor Michael Morrisey, a professor of economics at the UAB School of Public Health and co-author of the report, said, “new federal dollars and the spinoff on spending would result in new tax revenues of $1.7 billion.” Some of that money would come from increased income that in turn leads to more taxes collected (not from higher tax rates but because more income means more paid in taxes) and from greater sales tax as people buy more things. The state’s obligation to the expansion during those seven years would be about $770 million.
So in the end, the expansion would not only pay for itself but would also provide much needed revenue for other state services such as public education.
Already, some of the most prominent Republican governors in our country are beginning to reverse their opposition to expanding Medicaid and implementing the health insurance exchanges.
In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, who many people believe will be the Republican nominee for president in 2016, has indicated that he may begin to implement the health insurance exchange. Even our neighboring state of Mississippi has chosen to implement a health insurance exchange.
Gov. Bentley’s decision to reject the expansion of Medicaid and to turn over control of our state’s health insurance exchange to the federal government makes no since. Financially, Alabama would actually make money on the expansion of Medicaid. And giving control of our health insurance exchange to the federal government when we could control it ourselves is inconsistent with our Alabama values.
Gov. Bentley is a medical doctor. Yet, he is willingly choosing to deny health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of Alabamians. If these Alabamians then turn to emergency rooms for their health care needs, you and I – the taxpayers – are going to get the bill.
And it’s not just about providing healthcare to those who cannot afford it. Eleven percent of jobs in Alabama are connected to the health care industry. How many jobs could we create by expanding Medicaid and implementing our own health insurance exchange?
Gov. Bentley has had to make a lot of tough choices. But this choice should have been a no-brainer – especially for a medical doctor. And he was for the health insurance exchange before he was against it.
In the end, the only explanation for Gov. Bentley’s choice is that he decided it was more important to appear to be fighting “Obamacare” than to bring a billion dollars into the state and provide health care to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Alabamians without having to raise taxes. It is time to stop playing politics with peoples’ lives and do what is best for Alabama!
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. 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.