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Gov. Bentley, do the right thing and expand Medicaid in Alabama

By Sen. Quinton Ross

The citizens of Alabama stand to miss out on billions of federal dollars and preventive healthcare if the Governor continues to refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  This week, Governor Bentley signed two documents that dealt with Medicaid but neither expanded the program to provide approximately 300,000 more Alabamians with health coverage.

First, the Governor signed into law bi-partisan supported reforms to Medicaid that will restructure the delivery model of the agency’s services.  The Governor has said time and time again that he would not expand Medicaid while the system is “broken” and exists in its current structure.  Now, as of this week, the reforms are on their way to being implemented and the excuse of a “broken system” is no longer an issue.

Second, the Governor signed an Executive Order creating the Alabama Medicaid Pharmacy Study Commission.  No one will dispute that study commissions and research are extremely important to making informed legislative decisions.  However, the people of Alabama in need of healthcare should not have to wait for yet another study commission.  In regards to expanding Medicaid, the research has already been done.

Numerous studies have been published over the past year, including one from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and all tout the health benefits and huge economic impact that expanding Medicaid would have on our state.

The UAB study estimates that Medicaid expansion would generate nearly $20 billion in economic activity in Alabama from 2014 to 2020 and approximately 300,000 Alabamians would be covered.  The federal government will pay 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion for three years starting in 2014 and gradually decrease support to 90 percent by 2020. Medicaid expansion stands to be one of the largest economic development projects the state has ever landed with the federal government completely footing the bill for the first three years.

In addition, just this past week, a new study by RAND Corp. estimates that Alabama and 13 other states not expanding Medicaid will lose a combined $8.4 billion and leave 3.6 million Americans out of Medicaid coverage. If Governor Bentley chooses not to expand Medicaid, our state and localities not only lose billions of federal dollars but also, stand to spend more for uncompensated medical care for those left uninsured.

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Finally, the study estimates that 19,000 lives will be saved should all fourteen states holding out choose to expand Medicaid.  This truly is an issue of life and death.

My hope continues to be that the Governor will have a change of heart and make providing Alabamians in need of healthcare his number one priority.

Governor, we must make it our main focus to provide health coverage to 300,000 of our citizens and improve their health and their lives.  Governor, we cannot afford to reject the economic impact of recouping billions of Alabamians’ federal tax dollars and allow that money to go towards other states’ healthcare.

Governor, we cannot wait until after the 2014 elections to expand Medicaid because we lose out on millions and millions of federal dollars that could go to improving the quality of life for our citizens.

Therefore, I call on you, Governor Bentley, to do the right thing.  We have studied the system, and we have reformed the system.  Now, we must expand the system. I pray that you as our Governor and as a doctor will make the right choice for ALL Alabamians to expand Medicaid immediately so that we do not miss out on benefiting from even one federal dollar starting January 1, 2014.
Senator Quinton Ross is a Democrat from Montgomery.  He has served in the Alabama State Senate since 2002.

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