“The decision to not expand Medicaid was driven because of political initiatives, not because of what’s best for this state,” Sisk told a crowd gathered Monday at B.B. Comer Memorial Library. “I would encourage Gov. (Robert) Bentley and those in his office and other legislative members to do everything we can to consider expanding Medicaid to create jobs, have a significant impact on the economy in our state and provide access to healthcare for Alabamians today who don’t have the ability to access care.”
About 75 citizens attended Sisk’s presentation about Alabama’s Best, a campaign promoting the benefits of Medicaid expansion, which would mean coverage for an estimated 300,000 additional Alabamians, creation of more than 30,000 jobs and an economic impact of $28 billion over six years, according to the group’s website.
With 75 percent of Alabama hospitals currently losing money and, on average, operating at a margin of 1 percent, Sisk said refusal of Medicaid expansion could mean further damage to their fragile economic state.
“One of the things promised with the passage of the Affordable Care Act is that hospitals will take significant reimbursement cuts; however, everybody that comes to your organization will have some level of insurance because we’re going to expand Medicaid,” he said. “In Sylacauga’s case, that means the near 30 percent of people that now walk into our emergency department with no insurance will have some insurance, albeit not a tremendous payer, but they’ll have some level of insurance. Something is better than nothing.”
One caveat to the option to not expand the program is that tax dollars from Alabama will still be used to support expansion in other states, Sisk said.
“If Alabama doesn’t expand its program, that means $11.7 million from your pocket and my pocket will support Medicaid expansion in New York, California, New Mexico and states that have made the decision to expand,” he said.
The expansion would work by loosening the restrictive eligibility requirements for the program from 12 percent of the federal poverty level to 133 percent, or about $31,000 annual income for a family of four. It does not include an expansion of benefits.
States can choose at any point to opt in to the expansion, Sisk said, adding that it is better to opt in sooner rather than later to prevent the state’s tax dollars from going elsewhere.
According to a recent study, most Alabamians do not believe in the Affordable Care Act, but two-thirds of citizens do believe in Medicaid expansion, Sisk said.
The expansion would cost $777 million between now and 2020, Sisk said, and the federal government would pay 100 percent of expansion costs for the first three years, reducing the amount to 90 percent in 2020 and thereafter, according to Alabama’s Best. An economic impact study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health showed the additional taxes generated from the federal influx of dollars would more than cover the state’s cost of expansion.
Of 25 states that have approved expansion, only seven are Republican-led. Four others Republican-led states are having conversations about expansion, Sisk said, and healthcare providers are holding out hope that Alabama will join in.
Sisk closed by encouraging citizens to share their opinion on this topic with elected officials.
“The way we move things (in Montgomery) is when constituents begin talking and sharing their opinions,” he said. “Every one of us has the ability to have our voices heard, and I certainly encourage that.”
Contact Emily McLain at firstname.lastname@example.org.