Saturday, August 29, 2015

Craig Ford: State leaders say life matters, but they need to prove it

  Last week, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey wrote an article entitled “Life Matters” in response to the recent Planned Parenthood videos. Like Lt. Gov. Ivey, I am 100 percent pro-life, and was shocked by the videos that came out. Life does matter, and should be treated with dignity and respect at every stage, including before birth.

  But Lt. Gov. Ivey’s article–specifically the title–also raised another point: the difference between being “pro-life” and “pro-birth.” The title of the lieutenant governor’s article was “Life Matters,” but she didn’t write about life after birth.

  Is life no longer sacred after you’re born? If the lieutenant governor wants the government to protect life before it is born, then shouldn’t she be asking for the same after the children are born?

  A perfect example is Medicaid. More than half the children born in Alabama are born under healthcare paid for by Medicaid. From the mother’s prenatal care to the delivery itself, Medicaid pays for half the births in Alabama. But just a few weeks ago, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to cut $156 million from Medicaid, which would have basically shut the entire program down.

  Being pro-life should not just stop at birth. Being pro-life should mean that legislation is passed to help all of our state’s babies, including the 53% who are born under care paid for by Medicaid, or the children whose regular pediatric visits are paid for by Medicaid (on average, 30-60 percent of pediatricians’ business comes from Medicaid patients).

  I promise you that 90 percent or more of the legislators who voted for those cuts to Medicaid claim to be “pro-life.” But their votes would have shut down Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, forced doctors and hospitals all over the state to go out of business, and ultimately led to even more abortions when mothers lost their only source for prenatal and delivery care.

  In 2014, Alabama had the second highest infant mortality rate in the nation, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. This fact highlights how important prenatal care provided by Medicaid is to those mothers and their children. And if we are pro-life, then how can we be ok with that statistic or those legislators who voted to cut funding for the only program that keeps the number of infant deaths from being even higher?

  For these reasons, I believe that being pro-life means we should expand Medicaid. And if Lt. Gov. Ivey truly does believe that “Life Matters,” then she should be calling on the governor to expand Medicaid, too!

  Expanding Medicaid will provide more mothers with prenatal care, which, I believe, will reduce the number of abortions in Alabama. It will also improve the health of hundreds-of-thousands of children in Alabama who don’t currently have any health insurance. I can’t think of anything more “pro-life” than that!

  As it stands now, Medicaid eligibility in Alabama is limited to children and pregnant women, unless the family makes 18% above the poverty line: $4,368 a year in a four-person household. If we were to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, eligibility would expand to working families who make 138% above the poverty line: $16,243 a year per individual and $33,465 for a family of four.

  Imagine what that would mean for the 176,000 people in Alabama that fall under what the Kaiser Family Foundation calls, the “coverage gap,” where they make too much money to actually qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for federal subsidies?

  Lt. Gov. Ivey is right to argue that life matters before birth. But life also matters after that child is born. If Lt. Gov. Ivey and our state legislators really believe that “life matters,” then she and those legislators will call on Gov. Bentley to expand Medicaid. And if she doesn’t call on the governor to expand Medicaid, then we will know that “Life Matters” is little more than just a catchy title for an editorial.

  Expanding Medicaid is not a partisan issue. Republican governors across the country have done it, including Gov. Kasich, whom Gov. Bentley endorsed just last week. So if our state leaders truly are “pro-life,” if they truly do believe that “life matters,” then they will expand Medicaid and protect hundreds-of-thousands of Alabama children’s lives-both born and unborn.

  About the author: Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

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