Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, on Thursday was asked about the possibility of Medicaid expansion after the Senate passed the largest state General Fund budget in state history.
“Discussions continue on that,” Albritton said. “When we have an answer on how we will fund it, then we will talk about it.”
The Biden administration is pressuring the states to expand Medicaid, but Albritton told reporters that expanding Medicaid is more expensive for the state than what the federal government is saying.
“If you talk to the feds, it will cost us nothing,” Albritton said. “The state has to pay the money first then the federal government has to reimburse us. They never completely answer how much it is going to cost.”
Albritton explained that the real cost to the taxpayers of Alabama is probably much higher based on what happened in Kentucky and other states that did expand Medicaid.
“It is probably close to $300 million,” Albritton said.
Albritton said that the federal government just counts the cost of insuring the uninsured. But what happens is that people who are in the insurance market, but qualify for Medicaid, will drop their private coverage for the free Medicaid coverage, he said.
“It drives the private industry out,” Albritton said. “That adds huge numbers and costs.”
“We don’t have answers enough to start answering questions,” Albritton said.
On Thursday, a Family USA study was released claiming that the vast majority of uninsured Alabamians would qualify for coverage if the state expanded Medicaid. An estimated 200,000 uninsured Alabamians would qualify for the Medicaid expansion, and an additional 140,000 are struggling to pay for private coverage under the Affordable Care Act they cannot afford.
Albritton was asked about the governor’s plan to agree to lease mega prisons from private prison companies.
“This is the governor’s plan, and she is moving forward,” Albritton said. “I have concerns about the governor’s plan.”
The private prison investors have lost their financing and are attempting to resurrect their failing finances.
Albritton said: “We as a legislature are ready to step up if this falls apart. Hopefully, we will know in a week or so.”
Albritton suggested that the Legislature might have to do a bond issue to build the prisons. Albritton said that the governor’s plan could wind up costing $100 million a year more to lease the private prisons if their financing falls through.
“There is not a $100 million more to lease prisons,” Albritton said.
Albritton said that there is not support for a tax increase to build new prisons. If it costs more than projected, that would have to come from cuts.
“The problems we are having in DOC (Alabama Department of Corrections) is that we have got to hire more people. It does not have to have new prison construction,” Albritton said to reporters.
Albritton said that the Legislature has tasked the Alabama Department of Corrections with hiring more prison guards, and they have not succeeded.
In a report, the Department of Corrections reports that it has added 300 people to the DOC roles in three years.
“We are not going to get to the 2,000 required” by the federal court, Albritton said.
Thursday was day 27 of the 2021 Legislative Session. The Alabama Constitution of 1901 limits the regular session to a maximum of 30 days.