By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, July 24, Democratic Candidate for Governor former Congressman Parker Griffith of Huntsville, joined Third Congressional District candidate Jesse “J.T.” Smith, Citizens Baptist Medical Center President Joel Taylor, and UAB associate Professor Dr. David Becker in a panel discussion on the benefits of Medicaid Expansion in Alabama.
The forum was sponsored by the Talladega Democratic Party, was held at the historic Ritz Theatre in downtown Talladega, and was moderated by Alabama Political Reporter’s Editor, Bill Britt. Over 60 people attended the event, which was open to the public.
Former U.S. Representative Parker Griffith (D) is a career medical doctor. Rep. Griffith said, “My specialty is taking care of cancer patients. Treating the sickest of the sick.” On Governor Robert Bentley’s decision not to take the Medicaid expansion in Alabama, Griffith said, “I am stunned and appalled that someone with an MD behind his name would reject it.” Griffith said that the Kaiser Foundation studied it and said that the State of Alabama would benefit from the expansion. Dr. David Bronner looked at it from the financial side and said we needed to take it. The University of Alabama study showed that Alabama should expand Medicaid.
Dr. Becker who was one of the authors of the University of Alabama study said that he was stunned that the State is not taking advantage of this. “No reasonable answer was given,” Professor Becker said for the decision not to expand Medicaid.
Dr. Becker said that Republicans were putting politics in front of the lives of Alabamians. Becker said that Alabama Republicans were carrying out the interests of the national Republican Party rather than representing the interests of the people of Alabama. Becker said that the states have become the final battleground on blocking Obamacare. Meanwhile they are completely ignoring what the expansion would mean to the state of Alabama.
Joel Taylor said that the healthcare industry in Alabama represents 80,000 jobs. When the healthcare law was being debated in Washington the hospitals agreed to take cuts in how much they are reimbursed by Medicare in exchange for decreasing the number of people who do not have coverage.
Taylor said that there are over 200,000 people in Alabama that do not have insurance coverage but they do have access to emergency rooms which is the most costly place to provide care. Some of them make payment arrangements, but many of them do not pay and the hospitals have to write it off as bad debt. Taylor said the combination of the Medicare cuts with Alabama not taking the Medicaid expansion has put a lot of Alabama hospitals at risk. Taylor said that expanding Medicaid could create 30,000 new jobs in Alabama’s healthcare sector.
Dr. Becker said that 80% of the Medicaid eligible would be newly covered people. His study found that the Medicaid expansion would lead to $12 billion in new health care spending over the next ten years and $20 billion of new economic activity. His study did not come up with the 30,000 jobs number, but $12 billion in new health care money and $20 billion in new economic activity would create new jobs and the 30,000 job numbers sounds reasonable.
“You have got to scratch your head of why you would turn down those federal healthcare dollars over a $171 million investment on your part. The loser in this are the people in Alabama. The people who don’t have healthcare and the people who are not getting $20 billion in new economic activity.”
Becker is an associate professor at UAB Public School of Health.
Dr. Parker Griffith said that there is a Judeo/Christian ethic that is interwoven into the fabric of America. Not providing healthcare cripples a large portion of Alabama. As a cancer specialist you see this example all the time. A woman is discovered to have early stage breast cancer. There is a 95% cure rate and curing the breast cancer treatment costs only about $25,000. If the same woman is not diagnosed until it is stage three she is likely going to die and it will cost $500,000 in chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to treat her.
Griffith called the argument that we can not afford to expand Medicaid a knee jerk ideological argument by people who haven’t looked at it. “Most of the people who make that argument have health insurance.” Expanding Medicaid would put another $1.5 billion a year into our economy and would save at least 500 lives. It would have cost us nothing for the first three years and we never pay more than ten percent after that. “As far as the jobs are concerned when we see a hospital close we see jobs lost.”
Jesse Smith (D) is a veteran with tours in both Bosnia and Iraq. He is running for Congress in the Third Congressional District. Smith said this affects people across America and the Third District, especially veterans. There are 59,000 veterans living in the Third District and 13,000 of them are without health insurance. “We need to expand Medicaid because not only are the people suffering but our veterans are suffering.” Smith is challenging incumbent Representative Mike Rogers (R) from Saks.
Joel Taylor said, “Healthcare is an odd industry. We provide services we often don’t get paid for. Uncompensated care is 10% of my operating expenses.” Taylor said that hospitals provide a service to the community that is very similar to a public utility. “With Alabama Power, if you don’t pay for the service they cut you off. That is not the case with hospitals there is a federal mandate that we provide emergency care. If you do not have the ability to pay or will not pay it goes to bad debt.”
“The hospitals willingly gave up money (in the Obamacare debate) to decrease the uninsured.”
Dr. Becker said, “We are changing the convoluted way of compensating hospitals for uncompensated care.” The nation is transitioning away from this old mechanism to this new mechanism where Medicaid was to become the insurer for more of the poor decreasing the number of the uninsured, but a lot of states like Alabama did not expand Medicaid. There is no remedy insight and a lot of uncertainty. “A lot of community hospitals may close as a result. That is bad for people in Alabama and bad for rural hospitals.” Becker acknowledged that the Troy University study disputes his findings, but defended his methods.
Mr. Smith said that veterans would definitely benefit from the expansion of Medicaid. The Veterans Administration will pay for treatment of an injury if it is from a service related disability, but will not if that injury is not a service related disability. A veteran can be receiving treatment for his injuries suffered in Iraq or Afghanistan, but have no coverage for conditions not due to his or her service.
Rep. Griffith said that 40 to 50% of bankruptcies are related to medical bills. Coosa County has no hospital and no doctor. Lamar County has no hospital no doctor. Ten hospitals have closed in recent years and several are on the watch list. “Think of the number of Medicare recipients who have to drive 40 to 50 miles to get care.” The first sixty minutes are critical to someone suffering from a stroke to save more of that brain. The University of Alabama study says 500 Alabamians a year will die if we do not expand Medicaid. “All of us would benefit from it.” The net impact on the state budget. The State would receive an additional estimated tax revenue of a net $700 million.
Parker Griffith said that if you took the Medicaid expansion on an up or down vote in the Congress House Republicans would not repeal it. Griffith (who was in the Congress during the Obamacare debate and voted against the PPACA) said, “Medicaid expansion was something that we all agreed was a core principle that needed to be there.”
Griffith said, “The Koch brothers do not want Medicaid expansion because they believe that government is bad. We do not believe that.” Griffith said that the Koch brothers have paid for Mike Hubbard, Del Marsh and our Governor.
Griffith said that this debate is not about Medicaid it is about a philosophy that is opposed to all government.
Jim Williams said that some have said that they oppose Medicaid expansion because of the “woodwork effect.” The existing Medicaid program does not compensate the state at the same high rate that the expansion does. The woodwork theory is that if the state expands Medicaid, more people will sign up and actually be in the original Medicaid program costing the State’s general fund budget even more.
Parker Griffith said, “We want them to come out of the woodwork.” Our infant mortality rate is 11 per thousand births. Half of Alabama counties do not even have obstetric services. “You can not recruit doctors to a county with no hospital.”
Sandra Campbell said, “I used to practice bankruptcy law and I have seen many many people ruined by medical bills. Even people on Medicaid are struggling to pay for medications that Medicaid will not pay for.”
Joel Taylor said that the audience in the room tonight is already in favor of Medicaid expansion. The audience that is not here that we need to reach out too is moderate Republicans. Many of them understand that this would be good for the state; but to this point have not been willing to come forward. “I don’t know how to make those moderate Republicans braver.”
Parker Griffith said that we need a Medicaid expansion program that is tailored to Alabama. The state is tops in the country for: diabetes, cigarette consumption, obesity, heart disease….. “There is only one state who has worse health than Alabama and that is next door in Mississippi.” We think of healthcare as an emergency room but need to think of it as a way to prevent illness.
Griffith said, “There are a lot of good moderate Republicans out there who know that this is the right thing.” “Mike Hubbard’s management style is bullying and fear.” “I want to be able to craft a program that I can take to my friends in the Republican Party and have them say that this is a program than I can support.”
Griffith introduced former state Representative James Fields (D) who is running for Lt. Governor. “He has traveled the whole state and he is passionate about healthcare.”
When asked why many doctors have opposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Griffith said that most doctors are in a cocoon. Everybody at their practice tells them how smart, funny, witty they are because they are in charge. “The dollars in their retirement funds are federal dollars they are Medicare dollars. The Government controlled medicine is an argument for the uninformed. 95% of the private healthcare insurance market in Alabama is controlled by Blue Cross Blue Shield. There is no competition. Doctors are funny people. My father raised three boys and we are all doctors…he never finished 8th grade. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking they did it all on their own.”
Joel Taylor said that for most doctors, Medicaid is an important piece of doctors’ business. They are all over the board on this. Many have not investigated this topic. I think they are aware but it gets lost in their political ideology.
Parker Griffith said, “The new doctors that are under 40 are a different breed. They support this. In the future virtually all doctors will be on a salary.
Griffith said, “This is Alabama. This is the State that created the atmosphere for the Civil Rights Movement.” Medgar Evers gave his life so everyone can vote. Can we not vote? “We need to light the fuse in our churches in our stores. The beginning of any revolution is kicking in that rotten door.” “I have heard our governor say he does not trust our government to carry through with their promises. He is out of touch, out of ideas and needs to be out of office.”
The Chair of the Talladega Democratic Party Stephanie Engle presented certificates of appreciation to Dr. David Becker and Joel Taylor for their efforts to educate the public about the Medicaid Expansion. Chairwoman Engle also presented a Certificate of Appreciation to the Ritz Theater and Gayle Montgomery for hosting the forum.
Finally, Engle presented Bill Britt with a certificate praising him for his contributions to investigative journalism and broadcasting in the state of Alabama, as editor of The Alabama Political Reporter and the host of The View, which is seen by 70,000 Alabamians a week.
The Alabama Political Reporter spoke with Ron Crumpton, candidate for the Alabama Senate in district 11, after the event. Crumpton (D) said that although he organized the forum and it was his idea, he was barred from participation in the forum by Stephanie Engle over creative differences.
The general election will be November 4.
Mimi Penhale, Russell Bedsole advance to GOP runoff in HD49
Republican voters in House District 49 went to the polls Tuesday to nominate their next representative. Miriam “Mimi” Penhale and Russell Bedsole received the most votes and will advance on to the special Republican primary runoff scheduled for Sept. 1.
“What an incredible day!” Bedsole said. “Thank you friends and family for your love, support, and prayers. We had a great showing today and we are on to a runoff. Looking forward to getting back out and winning this thing on September 1st.”
“THANK YOU Bibb, Chilton and Shelby County!” Penhale said on social media. “I’m looking forward to earning your vote, again, on September 1 in the runoff.”
The election was very tight between the two. Mimi Penhale received 829 votes, or 31.4 percent of the votes. Russell Bedsole received 919 votes, or 34.8 percent.
The rest of the votes was split among the other four candidates. James Dean received less than 1 percent, Chuck Martin received 24.3 percent, Jackson McNeely received 2.16 percent and Donna Strong received 6.71 percent.
There were 2,639 votes cast on Tuesday. Voter turnout was 8.88 percent.
Bedsole serves on the Alabaster City Council, Pemhale is the director of the Shelby County Legislative office.
The eventual winner of the Republican nomination will face Democrat Cheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, Nov. 17.
The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Rep. April Weaver, R-Briarfield, announced her resignation to accept an appointment as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services.
House District 49 consists of portions of Bibb, Shelby and Chilton Counties. The winner will serve the remainder of Weaver’s term, which ends in late 2022.
Jimmy Reynolds, Ben Robbins qualify as Republicans for Alabama House District 33
The Alabama Republican Party on Tuesday closed its candidate qualifying period for the Alabama House of Representatives District 33 special primary election scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 6.
Jimmy Reynolds Jr. and Ben Robbins have qualified to run for the District 33 seat in the special Republican primary.
“Our district is a wonderful place to raise a family,” Robbins said in a statement. “We owe it to our children and grandchildren to leave them with more opportunities than we had, and I believe fresh ideas, bold leadership and true conservative values are the foundation of that success.”
Robbins serves on multiple community boards, including Habitat for Humanity, as co-president of Leadership Sylacauga and serves the Talladega Rotary Club as a past-president. He is also active with several local Chambers of Commerce and the Sylacauga Young Professionals. He is a seventh-generation Talladega County resident and the grandson of former Childersburg Mayor Robert Limbaugh. He and his wife Melanie have one son.
Jimmy Reynolds Jr. is a visual arts teacher at Sylacauga City School System. He previously worked for HHGregg Inc. and Tweeter Home Entertainment. Reynolds has a business management degree from Auburn University and lives in Hollins.
The Republican Special Primary Election will be held on Oct. 6, 2020, with the General Election scheduled for Jan. 19, 2021.
The vacancy in House District 33 occurred following the sudden passing of State Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, in July.
House District 33 consists of portions of Clay, Coosa and Talladega Counties.
Sens. Doug Jones, Cory Gardner introduce the American Dream Down Payment Act
Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner have introduced the American Dream Down Payment Act of 2020, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would help prospective homeowners save for a traditional 20 percent down payment by creating special tax-advantaged savings accounts for eligible housing costs.
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate our nation’s economy, it is getting even harder for many folks in Alabama and across the country to put money away in savings and to work toward the American dream of owning a home,” Jones said. “Down payments are the biggest barrier to homeownership for first-time homebuyers, especially among low-income and minority Americans, and make it harder to build generational wealth that is often tied to home-ownership. Our legislation would provide a new path to help make the dream of buying a home a reality by making it easier to save money for down payments and other housing-related costs.”
“A down payment on a home can be a significant barrier to becoming a homeowner,” Gardner said. “Inspired by the popular 529 education savings accounts, this bipartisan bill will make it easier for people to save for a down payment, which will aid both our unique housing challenges in Colorado and our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud to work with Senators Jones and Brown to help more families achieve the American Dream and own a home.”
These accounts would be similar to the popular 529 Plan accounts that encourage people to save pre-tax money to pay for future education expenses. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is the ranking member of the Senate Banking and Housing Committee and an original co-sponsor of the legislation.
The sponsors cite a recent survey by the Urban Institute that found that more than two-thirds of renters view down payments as a barrier to owning a home. As rents and student loan debt rise, it can be harder for prospective homeowners to save for a down payment, especially if they are a first-time homebuyer or aren’t able to receive help from family members.
“Borrowers of color have been locked out of affordable homeownership for decades,” Brown said. “The gap in Black and white homeownership rates remain as large now as it was before the Fair Housing Act was signed into law. These troubling and persistent inequities in homeownership rates have prevented generations of Black and brown families from obtaining the American dream of owning a home. The American Dream Down Payment Act is a new tool to help make homeownership a reality.”
Even though the nationwide homeownership rate is relatively stable, there are significant disparities in homeownership by age, race and ethnicity. The Black homeownership rate, which peaked just prior to the Great Recession, has fallen to a 50-year low in 2016, at just 41.7 percent. That remains nearly 30 points below the white homeownership rate. This is before the recent COVID-19 economic panic. Millennials are less likely to own a home by age 34 than their parents or grandparents were. If these trends continue, a growing number of Americans will be locked out of homeownership.
“The introduction of the American Dream Down Payment Act offers Black American families and individuals the opportunity to build legacy wealth through homeownership,” Brown added. “The ability to accumulate tax-free savings funds breaks down/eliminates one of the most prominent barriers to achieving homeownership, the down payment. This Act serves as a tangible springboard to increase Black homeownership and real wealth-building prospects which the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) includes in the meaning of its time-honored slogan, Democracy in Housing,” said Donnell Williams, National President, National Association of Real Estate Brokers.”
The American Dream Down Payment Act would let states establish American Dream Down Payment Accounts, which they would manage in the same way they manage 529 Plan accounts today. It would also allow prospective homeowners to save up as much as 20 percent of today’s housing cost, indexed for inflation, to use for an eligible down payment and other housing costs. It would facilitate long-term savings for a down payment and allow contributions from family and friends and allow homebuyers using their American Dream Down Payment Account savings and earnings to use those funds tax-free at withdrawal for eligible expenses.
To protect American Dream Down Payment Account holders, the Securities and Exchange Commission would be required to set standards for the investments of eligible accounts and allowable fees.
This legislation is supported by the National Association of Realtors, Habitat for Humanity and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers.
Jones is a member of the Senate Banking and Housing Committee. Both Jones and Gardner face tough re-election battles this year.
Payroll Protection Program deadline has been extended to Saturday
Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, this week reminded business owners that the deadline to apply for the Payroll Protection Program, knowns as the PPP, has been extended to Saturday.
“The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application deadline was recently extended to Saturday, August 8,” Roby wrote in an email to constituents. “Do not forget to fill out your application if you are a small business that has been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.“
The PPP was a loan program administered by the Small Business Administration. It was part of the bipartisan CARES Act to address the economic collapse caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic and the forced economic shutdowns, which were implemented in the early months of the public health emergency in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel strain of the coronavirus and allow public health agencies and health care systems time to build up testing, contact-tracing and hospital bed capacity.
The PPP loans are 1 percent interest loans available through the SBA. If the business uses the money to make payroll and pay standard operating expenses then the loans will be forgiven. Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease. The loan forgiveness form and instructions include several measures to reduce compliance burdens and simplify the process for borrowers.
The PPP has been very popular, so much so that that program ran out of money just weeks after Congress passed it. Congress had to go back and provide more funding for the PPP.
Businesses can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. You should consult with your local lender as to whether it is participating in the program.
Senate Democrats are meeting with the Trump Administration, Senate Republicans and House leadership on a compromise plan for a fifth coronavirus relief package. A big point of contention has been the size of the total package. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, supports a $3.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill while Republicans prefer a more modest $1 trillion relief bill. The two sides are expected to continue to negotiate through Friday in an attempt to reach a compromise before the August recess.
Roby is serving in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 2nd congressional district. She is not seeking re-election.