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Medicaid Reform passed in House on Tuesday

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives is scheduled to address comprehensive Medicaid reform on Tuesday. Senate Bill 340 is sponsored by Senator Greg Reed (R) from Jasper. If passed, it would divide the state into Regional Care Organizations that would provide for the delivery of medical services to Medicaid beneficiaries on a managed care basis.

The Alabama Political Reporter’ talked with House Health Committee Chairman Jim McClendon (R) from Springville, who is carrying the bill in the Alabama House, about the plan and the likelihood of it’s passage. Rep. McClendon said that the bill is the first bill on Tuesday’s special order calendar and if there is any organized opposition to the plan they have not contacted him.

Rep. McClendon said that the bill will bring care closer to the Medicaid beneficiaries in Alabama and that the RCOs will be able to customize the care to the region that they are in.

McClendon said that managed care will lead to better patient outcomes, which will lead to less emergency room visits and consequentially tremendous cost savings for the state. McClendon estimated that Medicaid reform could save the state between $50 million and $70 million a year over the next ten years.

‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ asked McClendon if the state would be able to continue to offer the same level of Medicaid benefits that it currently offers to beneficiaries if no reform plan passes without raising taxes. McClendon said “No. Absolutely not.”

McClendon said that as part of the Medicaid reform plan the state was going to provide counseling services so that poor Medicaid/Medicare dual eligible seniors could understand their Medicare options.

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While SB 340 reforms most of the troubled Alabama Medicaid program, long-term care services will continue to operate as it currently is configured. Advocates for Alabama seniors argue that the state could provide better care for Alabama’s indigent elderly if Medicaid would offer home healthcare and assisted living options

The state legislature has already passed a series of reforms designed to curb prescription drug abuse, which if effective, have the potential of curbing drug abuse by Medicaid beneficiaries. Rep. McClendon said in a written statement, “There’s no doubt that Alabama is suffering from a drug abuse epidemic as evidenced by statistics from just a few years ago showing just under 200,000 adults abused prescription drugs in our state. In addition to the human toll, the National Institute of Health estimates the societal cost of prescription drug abuse is as high as $50 billion a year in the United States, so dramatic steps are obviously needed.”

McClendon is also the sponsor of House Bill 110 which is designed to fight Medicaid fraud. McClendon said in a prepared statement, “Abusing a program that provides essential health care to the neediest citizens among us is the ultimate insult to Alabama taxpayers. By extending the statute of limitations and providing additional investigative tools to law enforcement agencies, the Medicaid Fraud Reduction Act will force even the most dishonest individual to think twice before trying to take advantage of the system.” HB 110 has already passed the House and could come before the state senate this week.

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The Alabama Senate is also considering legislation introduced by Rep. Mike Ball (R) from Madison which would make the state a member of a Medicaid compact (with Congressional approval) and receive Medicaid money from the federal government as a block grant. Currently the state has no control over the benefits offered or who is eligible for Alabama Medicaid programs even though the state provides much of the funds.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Alabama Republicans urge Jones to meet with Trump’s SCOTUS nominee

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump, left, and his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. (WHITE HOUSE PHOTO)

Wednesday, Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan and over 25 supporters held a news conference at ALGOP Headquarters in Hoover to demand that Senator Doug Jones not ignore the majority of Alabamians and consider Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court.

“Today is the day we are challenging Doug Jones to do something he rarely does – listen to the majority of Alabamians,” Lathan said. “He has ignored the majority over and over on major issues.”

Lathan said that Jones has ignored the wishes of the majority of Alabama: “On voting to remove the President…twice. When he voted no to seat now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He still owes Justice Kavanaugh an apology for going along with the circus the Democrats orchestrated against a nominee that Alabamians supported. On voting to withhold funding from the southern border wall being built. On declaring he will vote to take away Alabama tax cuts courtesy of President Trump…in other words take away your money that you work for – he’s telling you, Alabama, it’s his to take and not yours to keep. He wants your family income back.

“And now he has said he will not vote to confirm a deeply qualified and highly respected judge, Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court,” Lathan continued. “He said it’s because it’s too close to an election. Well, there was an election held in 2016 and 2018 – Alabama said we highly support President Trump in the White House and America added 2 more Republican U.S. Senate seats. With the Republican Party now the majority in the Senate and in the White House, Senator Jones needs to do his job – meet with her, listen to her and then decide on Judge Barrett’s credentials.”

“If he can find time to have campaign drive-in events, he can find time to do one of the most important jobs a U.S. Senator is tasked to do – the seating of a Supreme Court Justice, authored by the Founding Fathers through the United States Constitution,” Lathan continued. “Look, we understand he’s in a jam – with over 80% of his funding from out of state, mostly New York and California, he has to cash out with them. He’d fit in nicely in those lands of radical liberalism especially since he only votes with President Trump 35% of the time while representing the highest approval rated state for Donald Trump in the nation.”

Lathan said that, “Tone deafness to the seating of Judge Barrett will not stand. There is no reason not to meet with this mother of 7 who drives a minivan, is highly regarded by her students, professors and those who have worked with her in the judicial system. Why is he afraid? He looks weak. Alabama does not like that look at all. Do your job, Senator Jones. Use your own words that you pride yourself on of being fair. Meet with Judge Barrett on behalf of Alabama.”

“Doug Jones was asked on CNN about voting against the will of the majority of Alabamians during the Kavanaugh hearing,” Lathan said. “His answer was smug, arrogant and a true snapshot of how out of step he is with our state – he replied, ‘That may be true but it’s not the be all to end all.’ That’s code for ‘I don’t care’. So again, we find Doug Jones being Doug Jones – thumbing his liberal left-wing nose at one of the most conservative states in the nation.”

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Friday, Jones announced that he will not support any Trump nominee for the Supreme Court for the vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. Jones stated, “I will not support the confirmation of any Supreme Court justice nominee before the election.”

“It is a poor reflection of the state of our national politics that, just hours after Justice Ginsburg’s passing, we were thrust into a divisive partisan fight over her successor, denying the nation the time to mourn this extraordinary American’s death,” Jones continued. “Just weeks from a national election, we are confronting a blatant power grab by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the President that will undermine the court and subvert the will of the American people.”

“Just four years ago, Leader McConnell held open a Supreme Court seat for ten months before a presidential election because he said time and again that, in an election year, we must let the American people decide,” Jones said. “If confirming a Supreme Court justice ten months prior to a presidential election would have denied the American people a voice, then isn’t he now denying the American people a voice by rushing to confirm a justice just weeks before a presidential election?”

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“Under these circumstances, I will not support the confirmation of any Supreme Court justice nominee before the election,” Jones explained. We should not force the country into a brutal and divisive partisan confirmation fight while Americans are already voting to choose the next President. If President Trump is re-elected, I will evaluate any pending or future nominee on their merits and vote for or against the nominee based solely on their qualifications.”

“OK – go ahead Senator Jones. You do you and we are going to do us,” Chairman Lathan said. “On November 3rd when Alabamians have all of the power, we will prove that your one hit wonder term was really a one hit blunder term. We will thumb our noses at you with the stoke of our pens. You will have no one to blame but yourself. In 34 days, your millions of dollars and appeasement of the left will not save you. Alabamians don’t take kindly to being ignored and on November 3rd they will not be ignored by you any longer.”

“In 34 days, Alabama will again add a new page in our history books when we will show Doug Jones that the voters are the be all to end all,” Lathan said. “We will end his placeholder status and elect Tommy Tuberville to replace Doug Jones. Coach Tuberville will support our president and, as important, not ignore the wishes of the people of sweet home Alabama.”

Lathan was joined at ALGOP headquarters by State Representative David Wheeler (R-Vestavia), State Senator Jabo Wagoner (R-Vestavia), Jefferson County Republican Party Chairman former State Rep. Paul DeMarco (R-Homewood), and Republican National Committeewoman Vickie Drummond.

“The world is watching Alabama. Will we keep the majority in the Senate,” Lathan said.

Lathan challenged Senator Doug jones “to at least meet with her that is the minimum that he can do.”

Lathan warned that “Complacency is the enemy of the Republican Party,” when discussing the GOP’s prospects in the 2020 election.

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Health

Judge orders Alabama to change voter requirements over COVID-19 concerns

In his 197-page ruling, the judge wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified.”

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A federal judge ruled in favor of plaintiffs in a case challenging aspects of Alabama’s voting requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Wednesday ruling orders the principal defendant in the lawsuit, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, to allow curbside voting, in the counties that choose to do so, but only for the Nov. 3 general election. The judge’s rulings pertain solely to the Nov. 3 election.

Kallon also ordered the state to do away with the requirement for voters to have two witnesses or a notary sign their absentee ballot, if the voter submits a statement that they have an underlying medical condition that puts them at a heightened risk from COVID-19 and thus, they cannot safely get those additional signatures.

In addition, Kallon ruled that voters 65 and older with an underlying medical condition won’t need to submit a copy of a photo ID with their absentee ballot, so long as the voter provides other identifying information, such as their driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number.

In his 197-page ruling, Kallon wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified” and the voting provisions challenged in the lawsuit “unduly burden the fundamental Constitutional rights of Alabama’s most vulnerable voters and violate federal laws designed to protect America’s most marginalized citizens.”

“That is for three reasons,” the judge continued. “First, because the Challenged Provisions only marginally advance the State’s interests in maintaining them while significantly burdening the right to vote, all three provisions violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments during the pandemic.”

“Second, because the photo ID requirement and the de facto curbside voting ban make voting inaccessible for voters with disabilities, both those provisions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act during the pandemic. Finally, because the witness requirement interacts with Alabama’s history of discriminating against Black citizens to deny Black voters’ their right to vote, that provision violates the Voting Rights Act during the pandemic.”

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The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, was brought on behalf of several Alabamians with underlying medical conditions.

“This decision is a huge win for Alabama voters, especially voters of color and voters with disabilities,” said Deuel Ross, senior counsel at LDF, in a statement. “Given COVID-19, Alabama’s draconian voting rules needlessly place the health and voting rights of Alabamians in danger. No one should be forced to risk their safety to exercise their constitutional right. State and local election officials have a responsibility to ensure that voting is easy and accessible for everyone in the pandemic.”

Caren Short, senior staff attorney for the SPLC, applauded Wednesday’s decision.

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“Today’s decision provides  crucial relief in Alabama’s absentee voting process, allows for curbside voting in counties that wish to provide it, and ultimately will create a better public health situation in Alabama as it conducts an historic election,” Short said. “We’re deeply hopeful that the secretary of state and county election officials will accept the court’s ruling and begin educating Alabama voters on how they can vote safely and easily for the general election.”

“This ruling recognizes the hardships these laws place on Black Alabamians and those at particular risk for COVID-19. This decision will help to ease those burdens in the midst of this deadly pandemic,” said Davin Rosborough, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

Merrill, in a statement to APR after the ruling, said he plans to appeal the verdict, which he likened to “judicial activism.”

“I am extremely disappointed in today’s ruling in the case of People First of Alabama v. Merrill relating to the November 3 General Election. Judge Kallon’s ruling to disallow the Secretary of State from prohibiting an illegal activity known as ‘curbside voting’ undermines the integrity of the elections process and the ability for Alabamians to cast a secret ballot as the chain of custody is then broken,” Merrill said. “It is important to remember that counties are in no way required to offer the illegal activity known as ‘curbside voting.”

Kallon in his ruling noted that “No provision of Alabama law expressly prohibits curbside or drive” but that there’s also no provision in state law allowing for the practice, and that Merrill then believes curbside voting to be illegal. Kallon also wrote that several states do allow for curbside voting, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends states allow curbside voting to comply with social distancing rules and in limiting personal contact during in-person voting.

“In addition, the photo ID and witness requirement components are necessary deterrents for those wishing to illegally influence elections,” Merrill continued. “We look forward to successfully appealing this decision as we continue fighting for safe and secure elections – free from voter fraud and judicial activism.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a statement said he will ask for an appeal of Kallon’s verdict.

“Back in June, the district court in this case enjoined these important protections for the primary runoff.  But the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, staying that injunction and allowing the State to enforce its laws.  We will ask the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, to do the same again,” Marshall said. “Voting began weeks ago. And every Alabama voter is entitled to vote under the same laws, not new ones written by a federal court in the middle of voting.”

 

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Health

Gov. Kay Ivey extends statewide mask order, allows limited nursing home visitations

“This mask ordinance is working. It works, and we have evidence of that,” State Health Officer Scott Harris said.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey held a Coronavirus update Press Conference Wednesday September 30, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday extended Alabama’s statewide mask order, citing the upcoming general election and a reduction in the spread of the virus since her order went into effect in July. Ivey’s new order also allows for limited visitations in state nursing homes, and keeps all other previous social distancing restrictions in place.

“I’d hate to see us pull back too quickly and negate the progress that we’ve made in our daily positive numbers and our hospitalization rates by risking another spike due to a false sense of security, the upcoming winter months, the flu season and a host of other reasons,” Ivey said during a press conference Wednesday. 

Ivey said that with the Nov. 3 Election Day nearing “it’s important to have a safe environment where our poll workers poll watchers, and those of us who would like to vote in person.” 

Ivey said that voters aren’t required to wear a mask to vote in person, “I’m certainly going to wear my mask because I want to protect the poll workers and others that are going into the polls as well.” 

via Governor’s Office

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said state hospitals are caring for about half the number of COVID-19 patients than were hospitalized in late July, during a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, and just before the mask order was issued. 

“This mask ordinance is working. It works, and we have evidence of that,” Harris said. “There have not been any additional restrictions imposed on our state since this Stay at Home order at the end of April.” 

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Harris noted an August study released by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control that looked at that state’s jurisdictional mask orders, and found that in the 40 percent of jurisdictions that have mask orders COVID-19 cases were reduced by nearly half, compared to an increase in cases by 30 percent in jurisdictions without mask orders.  

White House Coronavirus Task Force Member Dr. Deborah Birx during a visit to Alabama last week urged Ivey to extend the mask order. Birx had praised Ivey’s statewide mask mandate during a previous visit to the state in July, when nine of the first 13 days of that month saw daily case increases in COVID-19 cases statewide of more than 1,000. 

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Ivey’s amended “safer-at-home” order also states that beginning Friday, hospitals and nursing homes shall ensure that each patient or resident can have one caregiver or visitor at a time, with some exceptions. 

Ivey’s order states that the changes are “subject to reasonable restrictions imposed on the entrance of persons because of the COVID-19 county positivity rate, the facility’s COVID-19 status, a patient’s or resident’s COVID-19 status, caregiver/visitor symptoms, lack of adherence to proper infection control practices, or other relevant factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with the following guidance from the federal government,” and goes on to list links to Centers for Medicaid and Medicaid Services guidance for the different facilities. 

Ivey said during the Wednesday press conference that none of her previous statewide orders prevented anyone from accompanying a loved one into a hospital, and said despite that, there has been some confusion on the matter. She said her amended order made that fact clear.  

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told The Montgomery Advertiser in June that hospitals have control over visitations. Hospitals statewide have enacted individual varying rules on visitations since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Harris also discussed the work being done to ready the state for disbursement of a vaccine, if and when one becomes available. Harris said a plan for doing so must be given to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by mid-October. 

“Obviously, we’re following very closely the safety data and efficacy data so that we are sure that we have a vaccine product that’s going to be safe and effective,” Harris said. “And I’m confident that information will be available for us, and then we can make a really good decision on that as we start to receive this vaccine.” 

Harris said the supply of a vaccine will initially be limited, and state health officials will have to prioritize disbursement for high-risk people, including health care workers, but that the state will release its plan to do so to ensure openness in the process.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | In Alabama, the past is prologue

Even after 200 years, Alabama’s political approach hasn’t changed much; the fundamentals established by its founders are still evident in everyday politics.

Bill Britt

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Like people, governments have pasts, and today’s fortunes are either furthered or frustrated by the things that came before. It might be said that even history leaves DNA.

Understanding Alabama’s past is essential to navigating its future because its government’s origins determine that the past is prologue.

Even after 200 years, Alabama’s political approach hasn’t changed much; the fundamentals established by its founders are still evident in everyday politics.

Those who observe Alabama’s governing process closely see the same structural problems impede progress year after year. Resistance to home rule and a regressive tax system are just two of the many roadblocks to a more prosperous state.

Some unresolved issues are due to a lack of leadership, but others are inherent within the state’s original governing procedures. Even the state’s architects’ elitist attitude is still prevalent with near total power given to a Legislature dominated by one-party rule. The earlier settlers’ prejudices are enshrined in every process of governing.

Failure to understand, acknowledge, and change the state’s historical patterns hinders advancement, leaving the state nearly dead last in every metric of success. It doesn’t have to be this way, but the cure is always met with fierce rejection because beyond admitting ingrained inequities, any change would upend 200 years of consolidated power.

When Republicans promised a new day in Alabama politics in 2010, some sincerely believed that change was possible. Still, after nearly a decade of Republican one-party rule, there isn’t a substantial difference in governing practice.

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It’s not because good people haven’t tried to make a difference; it’s that there are systematic flaws that thwart reformers while rewarding the status quo.

A region’s founders and its dominant settlers are the creators of what can be called a state’s DNA. Alabama’s government still reflects the make-up of its original colonizers.

Much of the Deep South was established by slave owners who intended to recreate a society based on the Caribbean colonies of Great Britain.

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In his 2011 non-fiction work American Nations: A history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America, Colin Woodard shows how Deep South states were “Marked by single-party rule, the domination of a single religious denomination, and the enshrinement of a racial caste system for most of its history.” He also writes that these cultures supported regulation on personal behavior while opposing economic restraint.

Today, Alabama’s governance framework and, to a lesser degree, its society is much like the Deep South characteristics Woodard describes.

One Party rule.

A dominant religion.

A racial caste system.

And a willingness to impose regulations on personal behavior while opposing almost every economic restrictions.

Woodward’s findings mirror Alabama’s state government.

Alabama’s central governing power is based on a top-down fraternity where a privileged few hold the reins of authority with a whip hand ready to strike.

Even before statehood, Alabama was regulated by an upper class who built the territory’s economy slave labor. The same class gained even more control after statehood.

“By the antebellum period, Alabama had evolved into a slave society, which…shaped much of the state’s economy, politics, and culture,” according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Slaves accounted for more than 30 percent of Alabama’s approximately 128,000 population when it was granted statehood in 1819. “When Alabama seceded from the Union in 1861, the state’s 435,080 slaves made up 45 percent of the total population,” writes Keith S. Hebert.

The state is currently home to approximately 4.9 million individuals. If 45 percent were slaves today, that would account for around 2.2 million people in bondage.

After the South lost the Civil War, Reconstruction ushered in an era where “a larger number of freed blacks entered the state’s electorate and began voting for the antislavery Republican Party,” according to Patrick R. Cotter, writing for the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

But the old establishment fought back and instituted the 1901 Constitution, which permanently ended any challenge to one-party rule and restored white supremacy in government.

A major feature of the new constitution was a poll tax and literacy tests and other measures to disenfranchise Black people and poor whites.

As Republicans reminded voters in the 2010 campaign cycle, Democrats controlled Alabama politics for 136 years. But these were not liberals; far from it. Alabama’s old Democratic Party for generations was home to racists, not radicals.

It was only over time that the Democratic Party became the diverse collation it is today.

With Republicans holding every state constitutional office and the Legislature, the one-party rule continues as it has throughout the state’s history; only the name has changed.

Looking back over the founding years of Alabama’s history, barbarity is searing, and the atrocities unimaginable. Yet, the fact remains that these early framers thought nothing of enslaving Blacks or treating poor whites as little more than chattel. It shocks our modern sensibilities as it should. Still today, the state continues in a system of government steeped in framers’ institutionalized prejudices.

Famously 19th-century British politician Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Alabama’s fathers wanted a government that gave absolute power to the few at the expense of the many; that is as true now as it was then.

There is a path to a better government, but as Lord Acton also said, “Great men are almost always bad men.”

History may not repeat itself, but politics does, and that is why Alabama’s history is prologue for today.

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