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Census data show need to expand Medicaid, raise wages in Alabama
More than one in five Alabama families with children lived in poverty in 2015, according to U.S. Census data released Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. Those numbers underscore the need for Alabama to do more to help families get ahead, ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister said.
“Alabama’s high poverty rate shows we still have a lot of work to do to ensure everyone has an opportunity to get ahead in life,” Forrister said. “By raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid for working adults and investing in better housing and public transportation options, Alabama can keep workers healthier and more productive, and ensure that their hard work pays off.”
Alabama’s family poverty rate of nearly 14 percent remains higher than it was in 2007 and still exceeds the national average by 3 percentage points. Overall, 18.5 percent of Alabamians lived below the poverty line (about $24,000 for a family of four) in 2015.
The state’s overall poverty rate is down since 2014, but Alabama’s child poverty rate of 26.6 percent remains one of the highest in the nation and is still higher than it was in 2007, before the Great Recession. Alabama’s child poverty rate also varies widely by region, from a low of 13 percent in the 6th Congressional District to a shocking high of 42 percent in the 7th Congressional District, which includes much of Birmingham and many rural Black Belt counties.
More than 250 Arise members met in Montgomery last week to consider ways to reduce Alabama’s persistently high poverty rate. Forrister’s policy recommendations touch on several of the issues that Arise members identified as 2017 priorities. (Read the full list of Arise’s 2017 issue priorities here.)
“Closing the Medicaid coverage gap and investing in public transportation and affordable housing would create thousands of jobs across Alabama and make our state a better place to live and work,” Forrister said. “By combining those steps with the creation of a higher state minimum wage, we can build a thriving economy and make high poverty rates a thing of the past in Alabama.”
Medicaid expansion works, and new Census numbers prove it
New U.S. Census Bureau data show one in 10 Alabamians had no health insurance coverage in 2015, an improvement from the state’s 13.6 percent uninsured rate in 2013, the last year before the Affordable Care Act took full effect. ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, in response:
“Today’s good news about health coverage in Alabama would be even better if the state had expanded Medicaid. More Alabamians have coverage today than in 2013, and the Affordable Care Act deserves much of the credit for those gains. Nearly 200,000 Alabamians have signed up for health insurance through the ACA marketplace. Many of them have coverage for the first time, and all of them now have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that a medical emergency won’t lead to financial ruin.
“But Alabama still has a long way to go to ensure that all of our neighbors have the coverage they need. Medicaid expansion would close the coverage gap for more than 300,000 uninsured working adults, college students and other folks in Alabama. That would mean a more productive workforce, thousands of new jobs and big state savings on mental health care and other services.
“We’re being left out. States like Kentucky and West Virginia that have expanded Medicaid have much lower uninsured rates than those that haven’t. They’re also enjoying the job creation and cost savings that come from injecting new federal money into their budgets and economies. It’s time for Alabama to expand Medicaid and reap those same benefits.”
Medicaid expansion, payday lending reform highlight Arise's 2017 priorities
Medicaid expansion, consumer-friendly lending reforms and creation of a state minimum wage are among the goals on Arise’s 2017 legislative agenda. Nearly 300 Arise members picked the group’s issue priorities at its annual meeting Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Montgomery. The eight goals chosen were:
“We believe in a more just and inclusive society for all Alabamians, and these proposals are a roadmap to get us there,” ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister said. “We’re excited to renew our work for policy changes to help hard-working Alabamians build a better life for their children.”
Nearly 300,000 uninsured adult Alabamians – most of them working adults and college students – would benefit from Medicaid expansion. “Closing the Medicaid coverage gap would keep workers and students healthier and more productive,” Forrister said. “It also would create thousands of new jobs and allow Alabama to save state money on mental health care and other important services.”
Alabama allows payday and title loans to carry annual interest rates of 456 percent and 300 percent, respectively. The movement for consumer-friendly reform has broad support and keeps gaining momentum, Forrister said. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly this year to reduce interest rates on payday loans, and about two dozen cities have placed moratoriums on new high-cost lenders.
A long-term budget fix includes Medicaid expansion
As Alabama lawmakers grapple to prevent devastating Medicaid cuts, the time is right to address a related threat to our state: the health coverage gap. Nearly 200,000 Alabama workers we depend on every day – in agriculture, food service, retail, home health and other fields – have no access to regular health care. They have no health insurance because their employers don’t offer it. They earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for federal tax credits to buy private plans. As a result, they often struggle to work while dealing with health problems that sap their productivity, add stress to their households and get worse without timely care.
Closing the coverage gap would not only save lives and help working families; it would stabilize the budget and boost our economy. This fact sheet by policy director Jim Carnes takes a closer look at how Medicaid expansion would benefit Alabama's health, quality of life and economy.
Expand Medicaid and end Alabama's cycle of shortfalls
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, after the Alabama Legislature passed a bill to use BP settlement money to stop deep Medicaid cuts in Alabama:
“We’re relieved that the Legislature pulled Alabama back from the brink of devastating Medicaid cuts that would have hurt more than 1 million people – mostly children, seniors, and people with disabilities. And we’re pleased to see lawmakers take steps to help shore up Medicaid funding for the next two years. Still, the bottom line is that we got yet another temporary solution. Vulnerable Alabamians’ access to health care shouldn’t be left up to stopgaps or one-time money.
“Medicaid is essential to the hospitals and clinics on which we all rely. Putting our state’s health care infrastructure at risk is no way to build a stronger Alabama. Neither is lurching from one crisis to another because of a repeated failure to solve the General Fund’s long-term shortfall.
“Alabama needs sustainable new revenue for General Fund services, and Medicaid expansion should be part of the solution. Closing the coverage gap for working people and college students would keep folks healthier, create thousands of jobs, and save the state millions of dollars on mental health care and other services. Expanding Medicaid would be a victory for Alabama’s economy, budgets and families.”
2016 legislative update: Lottery bill dead, BP settlement bill still alive in Alabama Legislature
A state lottery bill died, returned to life and then died again in the Alabama Legislature this week. The House voted 64-35 Thursday night for an amended version of SB 3, sponsored by Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, that included revenue earmarks for Medicaid, education, and rural and community fire departments. That move came after the House reconsidered its initial 61-37 vote on the bill, which fell two votes short of the 63 votes required to pass a constitutional amendment. However, the Senate on Friday voted 23-7 against concurring with the House's changes, killing SB 3 for the session.
The House and Senate both adjourned in short order after that vote. The Legislature will take next week off and return Sept. 6 for the 10th of 12 allowable meeting days during the special session. Lawmakers still have not addressed Medicaid’s $85 million shortfall for next year. A state lottery (an issue on which Arise takes no position for or against) would not have generated revenue in time to avert those cuts.
A measure that could help stop the 2017 Medicaid cuts is still alive. HB 36, sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, would use money from Alabama’s BP oil spill settlement to free up $70 million toward Medicaid’s $85 million shortfall. The House passed the bill 91-10 last week. The Senate has debated the bill but has not yet voted on it.
Medicaid provides health coverage for one in five Alabamians, mostly children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Alabama already has cut Medicaid payments to pediatricians and other primary care doctors by 30 percent starting Aug. 1, and even more cuts will follow if lawmakers do not address Medicaid’s funding shortfall.
By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted Aug. 26, 2016.