Gov. Bentley’s Decision Not to Expand Medicaid Costs Lives, Jobs

[NOTE: This opinion piece written by SOS members and organizers speaks to the adverse impact the lack of Medicaid expansion is having on the citizens of our state. Gov. Bentley can change the situation any time he chooses. But partisan politics are standing in the way of common-sense solutions. Our fellow citizens suffer as a result. Let’s work to change unjust policies.]

chose-life-expand-medicaid-alabamaThe Supreme Court handed to state governors the decision on whether to expand the income limits for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act of 2010.  Alabama Governor Robert Bentley refuses to do so.

Governor Bentley’s decision leaves some 300,000 Alabamians without health insurance and only one medical emergency from financial disaster.  Statistics show that without expanding Medicaid, more than 700 Alabamians will die needlessly each year.

Hospitals are also “dying” without Medicaid expansion. The Alabama Hospital Association says hospitals are closing at an alarming rate, particularly in rural areas.

When hospitals close, people suffer.  We know too well the differences in survival rates between the wait for a distant medevac helicopter and the speedy arrival of an ambulance from a nearby hospital. A North Carolina mayor – a Republican – told of just such a life lost four days after the nearest hospital closed.  He walked 273 miles to Washington D.C. to draw attention to the death and Medicaid Expansion’s positive impact on rural hospitals.

Since last year, 22 rural hospitals have closed, 20 in states that blocked Medicaid expansion, according to the National Rural Health Association.  In Alabama, 10 have closed in the last three years; up to a dozen face closure.

People without health insurance delay care until it becomes a serious condition, then go to more costly emergency rooms.  As a result, hospitals fold.  The public ultimately pays through higher taxes, insurance or hospital costs.  Areas without suitable access to health care often attract less industry.

Expansion is not welfare.  On July 30, consumer advocacy group Alabama ARISE reported that of the 300,000 eligible, 185,000 are working Alabamians. They work at places like McDonalds and Walmart, employers that often pay poverty wages and offer no benefits.  Ultimately, employers that hire part-time and pay low wages shift the burden onto the taxpayers for their employees’ medical care.

In response Bentley says I’m “committed to fixing Alabama’s program and not expanding it.”  He apparently believes that no system is better than a system that needs repair. The facts are so skewed in favor of expansion; it’s obvious that Bentley places his political agenda above life and death.

ARISE’s recent letter to the federal government questions Bentley’s proposed “fix”.  ARISE was the only consumer advocate on the 28 person commission finally appointed by Bentley to address Medicaid “problems”. ARISE says that Bentley uses a piecemeal array of programs that could be covered more comprehensively and cheaper through Medicaid Expansion.  While Bentley goes about “fixing” the problem, people die and the state loses out on $3.9 million-a-day in economic stimulus.

Apparently Bentley doesn’t care that the federal government pays 100% of direct costs for Medicaid expansion for the first three years.  Administrative costs amount to only $39 million a year during that time.

Bentley has been unmoved by the reputable predictions that economic benefits of Medicaid expansion far outpace direct and administrative costs. Expansion will create 12,000 health care related jobs and up to 30,000 jobs in total – by far the biggest job producer and economic development engine in Alabama.

Gov. Bentley, a doctor, who likely took an oath to have the utmost respect for human life, has a moral and ethical responsibility to save lives.

In the words of the Rev. William Barber, who organized an 80,000 person rally in North Carolina this year in support of Medicaid Expansion, “… if we ask people to go deeper than left or right, …Democrat or Republican, or their skin color, we can transform America.”  Medicaid expansion is a moral issue.  Saving hospitals, saving lives, we all have a stake.

Submitted by:

Sophia Bracy Harris, Executive Director Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama (FOCAL)

Scott Douglas, Executive Director Greater Birmingham Ministries

Al Henley, President Alabama AFL-CIO

Barbara Howard, Save Ourselves, (S.O.S.) Health Committee Chair

Roberta Watts, President  Alabama New South Coalition

John Zippert, Board Member, Greene County Hospital and Nursing Home

Voting Rights Anniversary Today Should Be A Celebration, But It’s Not

[Note: The Voting Rights Act was signed into law 49 years ago today. Sadly, the anniversary comes at a time when this vital democratic right has been rolled back. Until it is fully restored and strengthened, our country and state have little to celebrate. Read this note from Alabama State Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma.] 
Hank SandersAugust 6 ought to be a day of great celebration but it is not. President Jimmy Carter ought to celebrate August 6. President Bill Clinton ought to celebrate August 6. President Barack Obama ought to celebrate August 6 but they don’t.You and I ought to celebrate August 6. Everyone in the United States of America ought to celebrate August 6. African Americans especially ought to celebrate August 6. But we don’t.
August 6 is barely recognized, not to speak of celebrated.Something grand happened on August 6. Something happened on August 6 that was so sweeping that it changed the United States of America. Something happened on August 6 that made the entire country take a giant step toward fulfilling the promise of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Something happened that impacted not just the United States of America but much of the world. But we don’t even recall what happened on August 6 to
even recognize it, not to speak of celebrating it. 

If you are wondering what is so great about August 6, I will not keep you in suspense any longer. Please know that the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson on this date. It was a watershed moment in American History and influenced World History. August 6 must be celebrated.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 while Martin Luther King and others look on. LBJ Library, Yoichi R. Okamoto.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 while Martin Luther King and others look on. LBJ Library, Yoichi R. Okamoto.

When President Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act making it the law of the land, among other things, he said the following: Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has been won on any battlefield….

The law covers many pages. But the heart of the Act is plain. Whenever, by clear and objective standards, states and counties are using regulations, or laws, or tests, to deny the right to vote, then they will be struck down…

….the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men…..

It is nothing less than granting every Negro his freedom to enter the mainstream of American life: not the conformity that blurs enriching differences of culture and tradition, but rather the opportunity to choose.

For centuries oppression and hatred have taken their painful toll. It can be seen throughout our land in men without skills, in children without fathers, in families that are imprisoned in slums and poverty.

…. Thus, this is a victory for the freedom of the American Negro. But it is a victory for the freedom of the American Nation. And every family across this great, entire, searching land will live longer in liberty, will live more splendid in expectation, and will be prouder to be American because of the Act that you have passed that I will sign today.

I wish that each of us could read President Johnson’s entire August 6 speech for many other noteworthy statements are shared. If you read his remarks, you will understand that August 6 is a day that we all must celebrate.

We already celebrate the struggle for the right to vote and rightfully so. We celebrate Bloody Sunday, the Selma to Montgomery March and other voting rights struggles in March each year. We commemorate the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson and others who died in the struggle for the right to vote. We include the Voting Rights Act in our celebration. However, the legislative struggle for the Voting Rights Act was also a long and powerful struggle. The 1965 Voting Rights Act signed on August 6 was a concrete culmination of that struggle. August 6 must be lifted and celebrated. We must declare August 6 as National Voting Rights Day.

In our celebration of August 6, we must also recommit to preserving and strengthening the right to vote which is currently under determined attack. We must overcome the gutting of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by the U. S. Supreme Court. We must overcome the Supreme Court’s narrowing the breath and shallowing the depth of the Voting Rights Act. We must overcome the numerous state laws that make it more difficult to vote. We must have a day of national celebration to strengthen the right to vote for everyone.