We have all known for years that Alabama’s failure to expand access to affordable health care would lead to dire consequences. That’s why the issue of ensuring that all Alabamians have health insurance is so important. Not only does health insurance make it possible for people to afford the medical care they need, it ensures that our hospitals can stay financially afloat.
Right now, our hospitals are hemorrhaging red ink financially. In fact, it has been estimated that over seventeen hospitals throughout the state are at imminent risk of closing permanently due to the hundreds of thousands of people who lack health insurance throughout our state.
Adding to this unfolding crisis, three hospitals in Shelby and Monroe counties have recently announced that they will no longer be providing maternal care. What this means is that pregnant women living in Monroe County may be forced to drive up to 100 miles away for labor and delivery care. However, the reasons for discontinuing maternal services are not only financial, they are also due to a pervasive lack of specialized doctors and medical staff.
Tragically, this only adds to the disturbing fact that one-third of Alabama counties are currently “maternity care deserts”, and now, many more women may be forced to give birth in their local ERs or drive three counties away from home. Furthermore, the problem with delivering a baby in the ER is that they typically do not have NICU services or an obstetrics team, which could result in negative outcomes especially for premature deliveries.
The good news is that there are practical solutions to this problem.
First, we must, and can, close the coverage gap that primarily affects rural and low-income Alabama families. Families are hurting and hospitals are closing- this is a priority and I have confidence that the Legislature can find a bipartisan solution that is fiscally responsible and fair.
Second, we must find ways to incentivize and encourage the recruitment and retention of qualified doctors and medical personnel, especially in our rural communities.
Third, we must continue our state’s investments in innovative medical services, such as telemedicine, which helps bolster our overall efforts to expand health care and improve outcomes.
We cannot ignore this crisis. Too many Alabama lives are being unnecessarily lost, not to mention the staggering financial toll this will take on families and our economy. Most importantly, it is simply and indisputably the morally right thing to do. Alabama has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country and the nation’s third-highest infant mortality rate. Also, the state’s ban on abortion care, with no exceptions for rape or incest, means that there will be a much higher demand for prenatal, postnatal, and obstetrics care.
We have witnessed what can happen in Alabama when crises are ignored or “the can gets kicked down the road.” That’s why we are building the world’s most expensive prison costing over $1.3 billion dollars and, yet, we will still have to deal with overcrowding and understaffing issues when it’s finally complete. That’s why, in 2023, we are dealing with basic clean drinking water and sewage issues in Lowndes, Wilcox, and other Black Belt counties. That’s the high cost of being reactive instead of proactive.
My point is that this issue of maternal care access will not magically disappear. The longer we wait to take action only results in increasingly worse outcomes for pregnant women and their families. The longer we wait, the more we will see hospitals permanently shut their doors. The longer we wait, the more people will needlessly get sicker or die as they wait to receive the health care they need and deserve. The longer we wait, the more it will negatively impact our ability to bring new jobs and businesses to our state.
We must close the health care coverage gap. We must prevent more hospitals from closing or eliminating vital services. We must ensure that our families, friends, and neighbors have access to affordable and high quality healthcare. We must for our children and we must for the future of Alabama.
We can no longer afford to wait.
Rep. Thomas Jackson has represented House District 68 in south Alabama since 1994.