Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Darrio Melton: Medicaid expansion could help solve Alabama's budget crunch

  With all the chaos coming out of the Governor’s Mansion in the past month, it’s been easy to overlook the chaos coming out of the State House. While Gov. Robert Bentley has been tied up in a scandal, the Alabama Legislature has continued to meet and vote on legislation, which has all subsequently made it to the governor’s desk.

  One such piece of legislation is the General Fund budget. For the past few years, we’ve argued over whether we need more cuts or more funding, and the truthful answer is that we need a little bit of both. The legislature doesn’t have an appetite for new taxes, so the General Fund budget that made it to Bentley’s desk underfunds Medicaid by around $85 million.

  This underfunding means Medicaid patients may lose eye care, prescription drug coverage, and many other services on which they depend. Medicaid reform has been a key issue of the Bentley administration, as his background as a physician left him with a desire to reform our costly and broken system. Yet amidst the scandals in Montgomery, it’s clear Bentley has lost all of his political capital.

  When the budget with the $85 million Medicaid shortfall hit Bentley’s desk, he vetoed it – just as he said he would. And the legislature promptly overrode his veto – just as they said they would. It’s clear that this $85 million shortfall is not only costing hundreds of Alabamians – mostly children – the care they need; it’s also costing Bentley his key reform: Regional Care Organizations.

  With the governor threatening to bring the legislature back for a special session, but with impeachment threats looming, he might reconsider creating any additional legislative days on the calendar that could be used to bring articles of impeachment against him. It’s clear the legislature holds all the cards.

  But Bentley has a card up his sleeve he hasn’t played: Medicaid expansion.

  Governor Bentley has made an issue of rural hospitals closing and Alabama children failing to get the care they need, yet he has one card left to play to remind the legislature who the chief executive is and achieve the goals he’s set out for his second term without allowing the legislature to hamstring him. He has the authority to expand Medicaid and bring in millions of federal dollars to offset our struggling budget.

  Is it about people or about power, Governor Bentley? In this case, you’ve finally got a win-win opportunity for both. You can help the people you were elected to lead while simultaneously utilizing the bit of power left under your control. This could make or break your second term and the legacy you leave for Alabama. Do what’s right. Expand Medicaid.

  About the author: Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus:

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