Solution to general fund, Medicade crisis

Published 2:21 pm Wednesday, May 9, 2012

We’ve all been told that good things come to those who wait.  But, when the jobs and services of millions of Alabamians are at stake, waiting is not an option. As of this week, only four days remain in the 2012 Legislative Session.  The Senate has yet to be given the opportunity to review, much less pass, a General Fund Budget that will affect millions of Alabamians and agencies like Medicaid, the Department of Senior Services and the Department of Mental Health.

Democrats in the Senate have grown tired of waiting on solutions in what is now the 11th hour of this legislative session when Medicaid’s proposed funding is only $400 million.  Therefore, we introduced a budgetary plan last week, which rescues Medicaid, saves the General Fund, and ensures that the quality of our children’s education does not suffer from additional layoffs of educators.  Our budgetary plan funds Medicaid at an acceptable level without taking money away from schools, protects the Alabama Trust Fund and, most importantly, does not raise a single tax or fee.

The plan requires that the Canfield Rolling Reserve Act not go into effect until state revenues reach the prosperous level that they were in fiscal year 2008.  In addition, our plan allows the voters of Alabama to decide if future deposits into the Alabama Trust Fund can go to pay for vital state services that so many Alabamians rely on.  Finally, our plan would go much further than what the Governor has proposed, and would forgive the debt that the Education Trust Fund owes the Alabama Trust Fund (ATF).

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This budget requires bipartisan support, and we hope, for the sake of all Alabamians, that the Republican supermajority will put the people of Alabama before their party and support this plan. We cannot endure massive, and potentially deadly, cuts to Medicaid and the General Fund.

According to Dr. Don Williamson, Chairman of the Medicaid Transition Committee, if Medicaid is only allocated $400 million, “The economic calamity that will follow will be nothing short of catastrophic.”  Medicaid stands to be forced to cancel all federal contracts and lose all federal matching dollars under the proposed budget.  Even if Medicaid cuts every program not required by law like drugs for adults, outpatient dialysis, outpatient hospice, eye care for adults, and cuts physician fees, dental and lab payments by 50 percent, there are still not enough savings to operate under a $400 million budget.  Furthermore, if payments to pediatricians, family medicine physicians, and pharmacists are cut those doctors and pharmacists will be forced to move out of state or go out of business because their practices rely on Medicaid.  The budget proposed by Democrats last week would allow for our state to avoid all of these hardships and so many more should a solution to our budget woes not be passed.

If Medicaid is given a $400 million budget, our children will be the first to suffer because over half the babies born in Alabama were born under care provided by Medicaid, and 43 percent of all Alabama children are insured by Medicaid.  If Medicaid is given a $400 million budget, our seniors will lose crucial medical services and possibly their beds because over two thirds of our citizens who live in nursing homes are insured by Medicaid.

Senator Marc Keahey