By David Palmer
The Cullman Times
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has rejected a key measure in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Bentley appointed a commission last year to study creation of a health insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act, but Tuesday the governor said the state won’t create the new entity. Bentley is among 21 Republican governors who complained to the Obama administration that states need more flexibility in deciding which companies participate and what benefits are covered.
State Sen. Paul Bussman and Reps. Mac Buttram and Jeremy Oden, all Cullman County Republicans, applauded the governor’s announcement.
“I have a lot of confidence in the governor’s assessment of the situation. I trust him and other physicians I’ve talked to are afraid of what’s going to happen under this act,” Buttram said. “Some people have said you’ll get more federal money, but by 2020 you’ll get the brunt of it on the state level. Besides the federal government doesn’t have any money to give away.”
Bussman also said the longterm financial burden of the Affordable Care Act rests with the states.
“Part of the problem is we don’t really know what the federal government is asking us to do. Until we can understand that, we don’t do anything. The governor has made the right decision,” Bussman said. “The number of people we would have to hire just to bring more people into Medicaid would cost us money we don’t have.”
House minority leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the governor’s decision not to embrace the state insurance exchange.
“It is very disappointing that Gov. Bentley has chosen to hand over control of the state’s health insurance exchange to the federal government. Federal law requires the state to set up an insurance exchange. Because the governor has refused to follow the law, the federal government is going to set up the exchange anyway and without any input from the people of Alabama.
“It is also very disappointing that the governor has refused to expand the state’s Medicaid program. The expansion would have been almost completely paid for by the federal government, and the state would have had the option to back out of it at any time if we were not able to continue paying our part for it. We are leaving millions of dollars on the table, but more importantly we are leaving thousands of Alabamians without healthcare.
“The governor’s decision is not about making the right choice for the people of Alabama. The governor’s decision is about playing politics and wanting to appear like he is fighting Obamacare, when all he has really done is turn over these crucial decisions to the federal government and lost an opportunity to get our tax dollars back from the federal government.”
Bussman, however, noted that the immediate and eventual costs the state would inherit under the health plan cannot be overlooked by states.
“I think you will see the state Senate push back hard on this issue, and I think you will see a lot of states challenge the plan,” Bussman said. “We’re not going to bankrupt the state to meet a federal mandate. I don’t the feds can legally make us. Eventually, I believe we’ll see where the courts stand on that.”
The state’s General Fund budget is roughly $1.3 billion, with around $700 million making up the state’s share of Medicaid. A variety of other services fall under the General Fund, such as prisons and the judiciary.
Bussman said the president’s health plan push even more people into Medicaid and consume the General Fund.
“If we get a 15 to 20 percent increase on Medicaid we would be sucking nearly the whole General Fund into Medicaid, and we can’t do that,” Bussman said.
The senator also said some businesses may find that paying a fine is cheaper than going along with Obamacare, which would push even more people to Medicaid.
Oden said he stands by the governor’s position.
“I don’t think he’ll be the only governor to deny that. I think several other governors will stand up and say no,” Oden said. “I still see this as a federal reach into the states’ business and a reach into the business of individuals.”
The exchange Gov. Bentley rejected is designed to give the uninsured a place to price insurance and apply for subsidies. Friday is the deadline for states to notify the president’s administration whether they will create a state exchange or let the federal government implement one for them.
David Palmer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 213.
Portions of this report were taken from an Associated Press story by Phillip Rawls.