By Senator Roger Bedford
One year ago, I wrote my first opinion editorial urging Governor Bentley to expand Medicaid in the state of Alabama. I closed that editorial by saying:
“I pray that the Governor will take the time during this season of reflection and compassion to reconsider his decision that will leave approximately 228,000 Alabamians without health coverage and force the state of Alabama to lose out on billions of dollars in revenue.”
Sadly, our state remains in the same position today due to Governor Bentley’s inaction, and we stand to start losing millions of federal dollars EACH DAY come January 1, 2014.
Despite Governor Bentley’s refusal to consider Medicaid expansion, I introduced a bill that would statutorily require Medicaid expansion in the 2013 Regular Legislative Session. Unfortunately, the Republican supermajority never allowed the bill to be given a vote in committee, much less a vote on the floor. The Senate Democratic Caucus also introduced a Senate Joint Resolution urging the Governor to expand Medicaid, but the Republican supermajority never allowed the resolution out of the Senate Rules Committee for a vote of the body.
However, I am going to try yet again. I plan to introduce the same bill for the 2014 Legislative session in hopes that my colleagues in the legislature will see that we will be turning away $375 million of federal dollars for each fiscal quarter that Medicaid is not expanded.
It is important to note that nothing should have to be done legislatively if Governor Bentley would do the right thing and issue an executive order expanding Medicaid. He can create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic activity with one signature of his pen.
No Governor in my lifetime has had such an economic opportunity with just one signature.
A recent study by the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research estimates that 30,700 new jobs will be created over the next six years through the expansion of Medicaid. Governor Bentley admitted last week that jobs would be created from the expansion. Even though jobs would be created, he is still refusing to expand Medicaid because he is allowing his philosophical/political beliefs to outweigh the importance of job creation and safety.
Alabamians are hurting economically and need jobs. This is not the time to allow personal philosophical/political beliefs to take precedent when so much is at stake for so many.
Just last week the Philadelphia Branch of the Federal Reserve reported that the economic data improved in 45 states over the past three months. Unfortunately, Alabama was one of only five states that has had decreased economic activity. The numbers do not lie. Alabamians need employment more than almost any other Americans, but the Governor continues to think it is okay to turn away an opportunity for over 30,000 jobs to be generated in our state.
Last year, Governor Bentley gave Airbus $158 million in incentives with the caveat that they promise to create 1,000 permanent jobs. While that is good, the cost is still $158,000 per job. Medicaid expansion could create thirty times that amount of jobs while the federal government foots the bill 100 percent for the first three years. Even if this study’s calculations are off and only 10,000 jobs are created—
Medicaid expansion still creates more permanent jobs than any major economic announcement Alabamians have seen in years.
Other studies estimate that the state will receive $11.7 billion in federal funds, which will generate $19.8 billion in economic activity over six years.
When asked about these studies, Governor Bentley is so committed to putting his politics before his compassion for Alabama families that he said: “the studies are all bogus.” Where is any evidence that these studies are “bogus?”
Unfortunately, yet again, the Governor is putting his personal politics before the welfare of an estimated 300,000 working, taxpaying Alabamians that would be provided health coverage. If Governor Bentley continues to refuse to expand Medicaid, it is Alabamian’s tax dollars that he is refusing and allowing our tax dollars to be sent to other states.
Furthermore, hospitals will begin to lose millions in disproportionate share payments starting in January 2014. If Governor Bentley would allow those billions of tax dollars to come here, it could prevent many rural hospitals from being forced to close their doors.
Almost two-thirds of Alabamians support Medicaid expansion, as found by a poll conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Alabamians understand that our working class needs health coverage and jobs. Both can be achieved through Medicaid expansion without raising taxes.
The clock is ticking. Governor Bentley has one month to issue an Executive Order to expand Medicaid. If Medicaid is not expanded until after the November 2014 election, the state of Alabama will lose $1.5 billion.
Governor, I have never seen the stakes higher. I am begging you to put your personal politics aside and work for the greater good of our entire state. Please create thousands of jobs for Alabamians. Please bring billions of dollars of positive economic activity to Alabama. Please keep the doors open to our rural hospitals. Please give the state of Alabama the biggest Christmas present it has ever seen. Please expand Medicaid.
Senator Roger Bedford is a Democrat from Russellville. He has served in the Alabama Senate since 1982.