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Alabama Arise advocates for Medicaid expansion amid GOP resistance

More than 230 supporters of Alabama Arise Action convened at the Statehouse in Montgomery.

Alabama Arise Legislative Day Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Montgomery, AL. Julie Bennett
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In an impassioned plea for progress, Alabama Arise Action and its coalition of partners continue their unwavering campaign to persuade state lawmakers to broaden Medicaid, an endeavor met with resistance from Alabama Republicans who remain entrenched in their opposition to “Obamacare.” Year after year, this dance of advocacy and opposition unfolds, highlighting a persistent struggle for healthcare reform in Alabama.

At the heart of this narrative is Alabama Arise, a beacon of hope for those marginalized by poverty. This organization, with its broad coalition of faith-based, community, and civic groups, alongside grassroots leaders, tirelessly advocates for policies that promise a brighter future for Alabama’s underprivileged.

The call to action has never been clearer or more urgent, as over 230 supporters of Alabama Arise Action convened at the Statehouse in Montgomery, imploring Gov. Kay Ivey and legislators to bridge the state’s Medicaid coverage gap. This expansion is not merely a policy shift but a lifeline for nearly 300,000 Alabamians caught in the healthcare void, struggling for access or burdened by the high costs of coverage.

Amid this chorus for change, voices from various advocacy groups, including March of Dimes Alabama and the Alabama Rural Health Association, resonate with a singular message: closing the coverage gap is a beacon of hope for a healthier Alabama. Clyde Jones, president of the Alabama Arise Action board, encapsulates the sentiment, framing Medicaid expansion as a pivotal investment in the state’s prosperity, a means to sustain rural hospitals, foster job creation, and, most importantly, save lives.

The implications of inaction are stark, particularly for rural Alabama, where the specter of hospital closures looms large, threatening the community’s healthcare fabric. Farrell Turner, president of the Alabama Rural Health Association, paints a grim picture of the cascading effects of such closures, from lost healthcare services to economic and social upheaval in communities.

Closing this coverage gap would strengthen workforce participation and boost local economies across Alabama, studies show. It also would help the state’s rural hospitals remain open to serve everyone in their communities, Alabama Rural Health Association president Farrell Turner said during the recent meeting.

“When a hospital shuts down, it’s not just healthcare that’s lost. It’s other health services, such as pharmacies and lost jobs. It’s access to essential services, and it’s a blow to the very fabric of our communities,” Turner said. “By closing the coverage gap, we can reduce the burden of unpaid costs on healthcare providers and reinforce their ability to serve our communities.”

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Nineteen of Alabama’s 52 rural hospitals are at immediate risk of closure, according to the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform. The harmful fallout from those closures would extend far beyond the hospital walls, Turner said.

Hospital closures erode a community’s quality of life and limit its prospects for economic growth, Turner said. He urged lawmakers to act quickly to save people across Alabama from facing that fate.

“We cannot afford to wait until it’s too late. Every day that passes without action puts more hospitals at risk and threatens the health and well-being of rural Alabamians,” Turner said. “Our hospitals, health centers, and rural health clinics are at risk. Our communities are in crisis, and the time for action is now. Together, let’s work to close the coverage gap and secure a healthier future for rural Alabama.”

The narrative extends to the state’s maternal health crisis, with Alabama grappling with the nation’s highest maternal death rate. Honour Hill of the March of Dimes underscores the dire need for comprehensive healthcare coverage to address this alarming issue, advocating for continuous Medicaid coverage to safeguard the health of mothers and infants alike.

“The health of mom and baby are intrinsically intertwined, and addressing chronic conditions before a woman becomes pregnant is critical,” Hill said. “In Alabama, women of childbearing age need coverage before and between pregnancies, in addition to prenatal and postpartum coverage.”

Lawmakers in 2022 sought to reduce Alabama’s maternal death rate by extending postpartum Medicaid coverage to a full year after childbirth, up from the previous 60 days. Policymakers should build on that progress by ensuring Alabamians with low incomes can continue to receive care without an interruption due to loss of health coverage, Hill said.

“Lack of care before pregnancy can lead to poor pregnancy outcomes,” she said. “Our state is paying much more money to address women’s health issues during or between pregnancies than it would be if lawmakers enacted a policy to close the coverage gap.”

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Debbie Smith, leading the Cover Alabama campaign, articulates the tangible struggles faced by countless Alabamians caught in the healthcare coverage gap, a gap that forces harrowing choices between basic needs and medical care. This reality underscores the broader economic implications, as healthcare access is intrinsically linked to workforce participation and the state’s economic vitality.

Smith highlighted how closing the health coverage gap would allow more people to seek and keep employment. Alabama has one of the nation’s lowest workforce participation rates, she said, and one of the top factors that unemployed Al

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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