By Amy Hinton
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY – Gov. Robert Bentley Monday signed Executive Order Number 4, establishing the Alabama Health Care Improvement Task Force and challenging its 38 members to develop a statewide plan to not only explore ways to improve Alabama’s poor health rankings, but also to address infrastructure issues currently affecting health care throughout the state. “The health of all Alabamans ought to be paramount,” Bentley said
Bentley said he intended to create a Task Force to examine issues related to health care in Alabama during his first term, but tabled the plan due to uncertainty surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. “We can’t wait for the federal government to try and make the people of our state healthier,” Bentley said.
The 38-member Task Force includes representatives from State Health and Human Service agencies and the Alabama Legislature, as well as individuals working in all areas of health care practice. Representatives from higher education, nursing and medical schools, and physician residency programs are also included. Alabama’s State Health Officer, Dr. Donald Williamson, will Chair the Task Force.
“Alabama has a serious shortage of primary care doctors and dentists practicing in our State,” Bentley said, explaining that shortages of medical providers are a particular concern for rural areas of the State.
Bentley urged Task Force members to “work together and leave your health care ‘turf’ at the door,” challenging them to focus on three primary issues: (1) strategies to improve health outcomes for Alabamians living with chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure; (2) ways to improve access to medical care in rural areas through the use of telemedicine; and (3) addressing scope-of-practice laws for nurse practitioners, Physician Assistants and other “physician extenders.”
Bentley requested an action plan from the Task Force with ideas that could form the basis of legislation to address these three focus areas prior to the 2016 Regular Session. He stated that the structure of the Task Force provided him with needed flexibility to add members and expand its composition and scope of work, as needed.
Bentley maintained his position that Alabama would not expand its Medicaid program by accepting funding made available to states under the Affordable Care Act, but he did say state health officials have been in contact with Sylvia Burwell, President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, regarding the “possibility of an Alabama plan involving private insurance.” Bentley said the details of that plan were still under discussion, but any such plan would require “able-bodied people who participate to either be working or enrolled in a workforce training program.”
The Task Force will hold its first meeting, which will be open to the public, on April 15.