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

Gov. Bentley Asked to Attend SOS’ Medicaid Expansion Rally on May 31

Medicaid-ALAlabama Sen. Hank Sanders, a co-founding member of the Save Ourselves Movement for Justice and Democracy, sent a letter to Gov. Dr. Robert Bentley, respectfully asking him to attend the SOS rally to expand Medicaid in Alabama under the Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Bentley and state GOP leaders have expressed their concerns and fears as reasons for rejecting new federal monies that could flow into Alabama to provide affordable healthcare for more citizens. But they also have a responsibility to hear from concerned citizens about their fears and concerned about the consequences of not accepting the federal funds that could insure up to 300,000 Alabamians.

SOS members and their supporters are preparing to present as many as 13,000 signatures of citizens who favor Medicaid expansion in Alabama. Sen. Sanders’ letter asks Gov. Bentley to be present when SOS presents those signatures to his office. Below is the letter’s content:

May 28, 2014

The Honorable Robert Bentley
Governor, State of Alabama
State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36130

Dear Governor Bentley:

The Save Our Selves Movement for Democracy and Justice, a coalition of responsible organizations respectfully requests your presence or the presence of an official gubernatorial representative to attend a rally on the statehouse steps Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 11:00 a.m.

We are petitioning for you to expand Medicaid in Alabama. Your opposition to expanding Medicaid in our State is hard to understand. The denial of medical treatment, deferral of preventive care, and the poor health outcomes that result, have no place in a nation and state with the wealth, technology and scientific advance of the USA.

Alabama has one of the lowest Medicaid eligibility caps among the states. That means more people who can least afford health care are faced by having to do without. What we want is decency and fairness; neither of those breed “dependency.” That Medicaid will not be expanded in Alabama is more shameful because Alabama already ranks among the worst of all states when income inequality is calculated.medicaid-graphic_Kaiser Foundation

While medical costs have skyrocketed in recent years, earnings of the poorest 20 % of Alabamians actually dropped 13.5% in the last decade, In contrast, the richest 20% have enjoyed income growth of 71%. It is apparent the corporations are moving, if anything, away from commitment to their workers. (Statistics source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Economic Policy Institute).

You must be aware that estimates say 300,000 Alabamians still cannot afford health coverage (including about 152,000 who are working, some at two jobs.) Some of this country’s most profitable companies — massive retail outlets, fast food chains – are the real dependents, relying on taxpayers to weave and expand safety nets, when the provision of health care should be assumed a part of their cost of doing business.

Our coalition is convinced that Medicaid expansion is a necessity in Alabama, and we appeal to you to
do the right thing.

Signature: Senator Hank Sanders, SOS Chairperson

Signature: Barbara Howard, SOS Health Committee Chair

 See the letter HEREDownload