Concerned Citizens to Converge on Montgomery for Medicaid Hearing

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By Glynn Wilson –

A number of people from across Alabama have indicated they will converge on Montgomery Wednesday, April 20, when a joint committee of the House and Senate will hold a hearing on the problems of funding Medicaid in the state.

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After Governor Robert Bentley refused for the past three years to accept billions of dollars in federal money to expand Medicaid and do its part to fund the Affordable Care Act, this year the state Legislature cut another $85 million from Medicaid in the General Fund budget and is threatening other cuts, including dialysis clinics and physician reimbursements.

Medicaid says it needs an increase of $100 million – from $685 million to $785 million — to maintain services and allow the implementation of regional care organizations, a managed-care system with the goal of slowing growth in program costs.

Earlier this year officials said they needed $157 million, but have signaled they could work with $100 million.

The General Fund budget to take effect on Oct. 1 gives the program a $15 million increase. Legislators, noting Medicaid takes up the largest single part of the budget, claim they cannot let the program continue taking money from other state needs.

“We have been funding Medicaid at the level we could possibly do over the last several years at the cost of everything else in state government,” the Auburn Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard has said.

Governor Robert Bentley and Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar claim the budget could force Medicaid to cut services like adult prescription drugs, outpatient dialysis and hospice care. A primary care bump – which brings physicians’ reimbursements for Medicaid patients in-line with the higher-paying Medicare rate – could also be in jeopardy. That may restrict access to services for both Medicaid recipients and the privately insured and drive more patients into the state’s emergency rooms.

The hearing Wednesday beginning at 3:30 p.m. in Room 807 of the State House will take up the costs, functions and services of Medicaid, although the general public will not be allowed to speak.

“The purpose is to get the facts,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. “Everyone needs to know where we are with Medicaid, what the projections are, (and) the future of the RCOs that were set up.”

Looming Medicaid cuts would harm hundreds of thousands of people across Alabama – mostly children, seniors, and people with disabilities, according to advocacy groups who plan to be in Montgomery to protest.

Some faith-based groups have announced they will hold a news conference before the hearing at 2 p.m. in Room 316 in the State House to highlight real-world stories of Medicaid’s importance to the most vulnerable Alabamians.

“Medicaid coverage is essential to protect the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of children in Alabama,” Alabama Children First executive director Christy Cain said in a press release. “Cutting Medicaid is no way to build a brighter future for our children or our state.”

Alabama Arise state coordinator Kimble Forrister said the state’s Medicaid debate isn’t about numbers on a spreadsheet.

“It’s about people,” he said. “Medicaid cuts would reduce health care access and make life harder for many of the most vulnerable Alabamians: children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Their voices must be heard in this debate.”

Those politically active accross the state in the Bernie Sanders campaign for president also plan to attend.

The New American Journal will be there to video and cover the event.

© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.