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Alabama coalition pushes for Medicaid expansion amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit research organization Families USA released a report Monday that shows that in Alabama, job losses during the coronavirus pandemic resulted in 69,000 Alabamians losing health insurance between February and May.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A coalition of Alabama organizations pushing for an expansion of Medicaid in the state says that the expansion should have happened before the COVID-19 pandemic, but is all the more needed now, as thousands of Alabamians have lost health insurance during the crisis. 

Jane Adams, Alabama Arise campaign director, said in a statement Wednesday that even before COVID-19 , the state’s failure to expand Medicaid left more than 220,000 adults uninsured. Adams directs Cover Alabama, which is a coalition of more than 90 groups pushing for Medicaid expansion in the state. Arise is a founding member of the coalition.

“Further coverage losses during the recession will bring health and financial suffering for even more families across our state,” Adams said. “More people will go without needed health care. More hospital bills will go unpaid. And all Alabamians will bear the additional strain on our health care system. This report’s findings should be a blaring emergency siren for our state leaders.”

The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit research organization Families USA released a report Monday that shows that in Alabama, job losses during the coronavirus pandemic resulted in 69,000 Alabamians losing health insurance between February and May. Those uninsured adults raised Alabama’s uninsured rate to 19 percent, which is the ninth highest rate in the country, and 3 percentage points higher than in 2018, according to the report. 

“As workers and their families lose comprehensive health insurance, their risk of delayed care and complications from the virus increases. So does their risk of financial devastation,” Alabama Arise’s press release states. 

Across the country 5.4 million more Americans lost health insurance between February and May, the report notes, which was a 39 percent higher increase in uninsured than any annual increase on record. States with high numbers of uninsured are also seeing more increases in COVID-19 cases, according to the report, which ranks Alabama as having the seven highest rate of new COVID-19 cases among the 15 states with large numbers of uninsured. 

“COVID-19 is putting lives, livelihoods and economic security at risk for thousands of Alabama workers. And many communities face long-term challenges for health care capacity and economic recovery,” Adams said. “Alabama Arise and Cover Alabama urge Gov. Kay Ivey to save lives and stabilize our local hospitals by expanding Medicaid. We ask the Legislature to provide the needed state share of this pro-family, pro-health, pro-community investment in our future. And we ask Congress to strengthen Medicaid funding and help Alabama shore up our health care infrastructure.”

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Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told reporters during a press conference Tuesday that expanding Medicaid “is critically important.”

“We see clear data now that infant mortality rates are lowered in states that have expanded Medicaid, because women have better access to prenatal care,” Williamson said. “We see breast cancer diagnosed earlier, hence reducing the death rate due to breast cancer. We see diabetes being diagnosed earlier. We just see a general improvement in life expectancy and health outcomes associated with people having access to health care.”

In states that have expanded Medicaid there’s evidence that peoples’ credit scores improve, bankruptcies decline and jobs are created, Williamson said.

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“It seems to us like the right thing to do for our citizens, and it seems the right thing to do for the state, and that was all before COVID,” Williamson said. “And COVID has simply highlighted that there are thousands of people now who end up coming to hospitals and not having insurance.”

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, who hosted Williamson in the Tuesday press conference, has been a longtime proponent of expanding Medicaid in Alabama, and said he continues to work to try and get incentives approved to help reduce the cost to Alabama and other states for an expansion of the program.

“Going into this pandemic we had over 300,000 Alabamians it would have benefited,” Jones said of a Medicaid expansion. “Today, it’s probably closer to 500,000.”

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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AARP Alabama asks for details on $50 million federal COVID-19 aid to nursing homes

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama chapter of AARP is asking the state to ensure federal coronavirus relief funds are spent wisely and in the open. Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced $50 million in grants would go to state nursing homes to aid in the fight against COVID-19.

Candi Williams, AARP’s Alabama state director, told APR on Monday that the organization, which advocates for the elderly, wants a better understanding of how that money will be spent and to ensure some is spent for ongoing COVID-19 testing.

A spokesman for the Alabama Nursing Home Association says details on how the money can be spent is already publicly available, however, and Ivey in early June announced the award of $18.27 million in federal CARES Act funds to be spent toward regular nursing home COVID-19 testing.

“What we’re looking for is specifics on how it will be used, and we want those specifics to be made publicly available,” Williams said.

Ivey on Friday said the money is to be administered by the Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation. The Alabama Hospital Association is to administer up to $50 million in grants to state hospitals through another program.

“This allocation of up to $50 million will be for operational costs that are COVID-19 related, such as PPE, cleaning, personnel costs and other costs incurred related to the pandemic,” Ivey’s office said in a press release Friday.

“In partnership with the state of Alabama, the Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation will administer the funds fairly and impartially on behalf of the people of Alabama, for all of Alabama’s nursing home facilities,” the statement goes on to say.

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Williams said the public deserves to know how the federal funds will be used, and said Ivey’s office hasn’t yet signaled whether those details will be made public.

Ivey’s office, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment, and referred a reporter to the Alabama Nursing Home Association.

John Matson, communications director for the Alabama Nursing Home Association, told APR that AARP Alabama need only read the memorandum of understanding published along with Ivey’s announcement about the grants on Friday to see how the money must be spent.

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According to the memorandum, the Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation can only disburse the funds to nursing homes “for the purposes of responding to or mitigating the COVID-19 public health emergency” and details what facilities must do to receive the money.

Among the requirements, nursing homes in their applications must provide supporting documentation, which can include invoices, purchase orders, payroll records and financial records, according to the memorandum. The foundation must also provide the Alabama Finance Director’s Office with a detailed report on the 15th of each month noting how the money was spent, according to the document.

“I think it would be helpful for them to read that,” Matson said, referring to AARP Alabama and the memorandum of understanding.

AARP Alabama is also asking that the money be used for ongoing and methodical testing of all residents and staff in the state’s long-term care facilities.

“We’ve seen across the country that testing can be hit or miss, and testing frequency can vary,” Williams said. “We’ve seen in other states where that has helped curb the loss of life and helps protect residents.”

Matson noted that Ivey in early June also announced a separate $18.27 million in federal CARES Act funds to be spent toward regular nursing home COVID-19 testing and “proactive surveillance” through the end of the calendar year, which is also being administered by the Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation.

Alabama’s long-term care ombudsmen, who are tasked with protecting residents’ rights and investigating health and safety concerns, have been largely banned from entering Alabama’s long-term care facilities since early on in the pandemic when the facilities ended visitations to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Williams said AARP would also like to see the safe reentry of ombudsmen into state facilities and for those details to be included in a publicly-released plan.

“We also have been advocating for transparency and real-time data about the COVID cases and death in Alabama nursing homes and long-term care facilities. That continues to be a struggle,” Williams said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is collecting that state data, but it’s weeks old by the time it’s published on the federal agency’s website, Williams said.

“Having that information would help us protect the residents, staff and surrounding communities, but also making sure families have that information,” Williams said.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has declined to release county-level or facility-level details on coronavirus in long-term care facilities and nursing homes, citing privacy concerns. Many other states do release that information, however.

According to CMS, there have been 3,841 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 562 deaths among residents in Alabama nursing homes as of July 26. AARP Alabama said COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents make up approximately 42 percent of the state’s total coronavirus deaths.

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Gov. Kay Ivey awards $100 million to state nursing homes, hospitals in fight against coronavirus

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey held an Coronavirus update Press conference Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced the award of $100 million in coronavirus relief funds for grants to state nursing homes and hospitals to aid in the fight against COVID-19. 

“While there are many aspects of COVID-19 that we still don’t know, one thing that isn’t in dispute is our seniors and those with preexisting health conditions fair the worst when contracting the virus,” Ivey said in a statement. “Protecting our most vulnerable citizens remains a priority for my administration, and it is incumbent to ensure that our nursing homes and hospitals have every tool possible to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as well as keep their staff and health care professionals safe as they offer exceptional care to those who are ill.”

One of the two grant programs will provide up to $50 million to be used by Alabama nursing homes for personal protective equipment, cleaning, personnel costs and “other costs incurred related to the pandemic,” according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

The Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation will administer the funds, according to Ivey’s office. The non-profit previously received $18.27 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to pay for testing and proactive surveillance of COVID-19 for health care workers and nursing home residents. 

“On behalf of Alabama’s nursing homes, I thank Governor Ivey for her continued commitment to assisting the residents and staff in our facilities,” said Brandon Farmer, president of the Alabama Nursing Home Association, in a statement. “Our nursing homes continue to provide high quality, compassionate care despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. These funds will help cover the unexpected and ongoing costs we incur during this pandemic and allow us to focus on caring for those most vulnerable to this virus.”

The Alabama Hospital Association will administer up to $50 million through the other grant program to state hospitals, according to the release. 

“Despite unprecedented challenges and financial strains as a result of the pandemic, Alabama’s hospitals have continued to rise to the occasion in meeting the health care needs of our citizens,” said Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, in a statement. “Our hospitals thank Governor Ivey and her administration for the continued support and financial assistance. This will go a long way to ensure hospitals are able to care for all patients who need hospital services and protect their employees while doing so.”  

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The two grant programs were funded from the approximately $1.9 billion the state received through the CARES Act. Up to $250 million of that money has been earmarked for the delivery of health care in the state’s battle with coronavirus.

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Judge dismisses lawsuit asking court to loosen voting restrictions amid COVID-19 pandemic

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A Montgomery Circuit Court judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit against Gov. Kay Ivey, Secretary of State John Merrill and several Montgomery County election officials that asked the court to expand Alabama’s absentee voting and relax other voting measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Montgomery Circuit Judge J.R. Gains in his order dismissing the suit wrote that the court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the plaintiff’s complaint because “Plaintiffs present a non-justiciable political question, Plaintiffs lack standing to sue Defendants, and the claims against Defendants are barred by sovereign immunity.” 

The League of Women Voters’ lawsuit asked Gains to order Ivey and Merrill to exercise emergency powers to waive the notary or witness requirement, the requirement to supply a copy of a photo ID and to extend no-excuse absentee voting into the fall. 

“COVID 19 is a very real threat, not only to voters’ physical health but also to the health of Alabama’s electoral process.  We are profoundly disappointed by the judge’s decision, which allows elections to proceed in their current state,” said League President Barbara Caddell in a statement Friday. 

“The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization whose mission is to empower voters and defend democracy. This case was filed to do just that. It was filed in the Alabama court system based on the Alabama Constitution and the Alabama Emergency Management Act which protect the right to vote in times of ‘tumult’ and give the Governor and the Secretary of State emergency power to protect citizens during emergencies. This pandemic certainly qualifies as ‘tumult’ requiring additional emergency assistance,” Caddell continued.

Caddell said that since the judge ruled he didn’t have the authority to require Ivey and Merrill to use their emergency powers, the league is appealing to Ivey for help, and detailed eight requests:

  • Suspend the requirement that a copy of the voter’s photo ID be included with the voter’s application for an absentee ballot
  • Suspend the requirement that the absentee ballot be notarized or signed by two witnesses;
  •  Provide adequate personal protective equipment for clerks and poll workers and disinfecting polling equipment;
  • Require in-person voters to wear masks and maintain social distancing;
  • Authorize local election officials to provide early voting at least fourteen days before each election day;
  • Authorize local election officials to provide drive-through or curbside voting where practicable, to establish vote centers and relax restrictions on wrong-precinct voting;
  • Provide local election officials the financial resources to implement these emergency measures; and
  • Adequately notify all Alabama voters of these emergency measures.  This includes either notifying voters that no box need be checked to vote absentee or modifying the absentee application and ballot forms to inform voters explicitly which boxes to check.

“In the past, Governor Ivey has demonstrated her concern for Alabamians in a variety of ways, and we encourage her to address our concerns for election safety by using her emergency power to order such common-sense voter protections,” the league said in their statement.

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Alabama coronavirus cases more than doubled in the last 30 days

The state has averaged 1,605 cases per day in the last 30 days. Thursday’s increase of 1,626 exceeded that average.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported an additional 1,626 coronavirus cases on Thursday after several days when new cases increased by less than 1,000 per day.

Through July 7, at least 45,263 Alabamians had contracted the coronavirus, but in the 30 days since, 48,139 more Alabamians have tested positive for the virus and more deaths have followed. The state has averaged 1,605 cases per day in the last 30 days. Thursday’s increase of 1,626 exceeded that average.

The state now has 93,402 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and that number is sure to rise as schools begin to reopen next week and children and teachers begin intermingling for the first time in 117 days.

Through July 7, at least 1,007 Alabamians died from COVID-19. In the last 30 days, another 647 Alabamians have died. That is an average of nearly 22 deaths per day. The Department of Public Health confirmed an additional 15 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday. The state’s death toll now stands at 1,654.

As of Wednesday, at least 1,575 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals statewide. Many hospitals have recently been or are currently near ICU bed capacity. Making matters worse for health care workers, 5,575 Alabama health care workers have tested positive for the coronavirus.

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At least 1,576 of those health care worker cases have come in just the last 30 days.

By Thursday, the state reported 736,594 tests, and 93,402 have been positive. That is nearly a 12.7 percent rate of positive tests since March. Public health officials say anything over 5 percent is bad and an indicator that there are many more people out there with the coronavirus that are not being detected.

In the last two weeks, though, at least 17.5 percent of tests have come back positive, based on 14-day averages of daily case and test increases. In the last week, that positivity rate has been nearly 17 percent.

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At least 37,923 Alabamians are presumed to have recovered.

Some states, including New York, are asking that visitors from Alabama quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival. GOP Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville was recently criticized in The Washington Post for defying Washington D.C.’s 14-day quarantine request for visitors from Alabama.

Not all of the news is bad. The seven and 14-day averages of daily case increases in the state have both been dropping since peaking around July 25. The cases, while dropping, are still well above what they were prior to July 13, and the positivity rate remains high.

The state remains under a “safer-at-home” order through the end of August, issued by Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris. If you do not have to leave your home, then do not leave your home. You are safer there.

If you are going to be around other people not in your household, you are required to wear a mask or cloth face covering. This includes school children returning to classes this month.

Remember to always socially distance. Stay six feet away from other people as much as possible. Don’t shake hands or hug people not actually living in your household.

If someone in your household is sick, isolate them from the rest of the family. If you or someone in your family have any sort of symptoms, get tested for the coronavirus. Remember to wash your hands frequently.

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