Alabama Senate Minority Leader: “We need Medicaid expansion now more than ever”
Montgomery, Ala. - State Senator Bobby Singleton believes the Alabama legislature must revisit Medicaid expansion to protect the state’s most susceptible populations from future waves of the coronavirus.
“We missed an opportunity,” said Singleton. “Expanding Medicaid could have helped our rural hospitals expand, build them up with equipment, and bring in more medical personnel. It would have given grants to nonprofit agencies that are out here doing the work.”
Alabama is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid. While the state has Medicaid programs for children, parents, caregivers, pregnant women, elderly and disabled residents that meet the income criteria, the program does not cover low-income adults that fall outside of these categories.
Singleton says the pandemic has pulled the cover back on healthcare disparities. While African Americans make up one-fourth of Alabama’s population, they account for 43.9 percent of verified COVID-19 deaths. Medical professionals have cited inadequate healthcare access and higher rates of chronic underlying conditions such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and asthma in African-American communities as reasons for the disproportionate impact.
“It’s no doubt that Governor Ivey knows where the disparities are, the question is whether the Republican majority wants to deal with it head-on,” said Singleton. “We’ve been putting a band-aid on the cancer and the cancer is continuing to spread. We’re going to have to be frank and have real conversations.”
Among those conversations is figuring out how to make the best use of the $1.8 billion federal CARES Act allocation to Alabama. Lawmakers recently approved Governor Kay Ivey’s spending plan for the funds to help revitalize the state from the health and economic effects of the pandemic. All the money must be spent by December 30 to avoid being returned to the federal government.
Ivey’s finance team has developed an application process for the funding that primarily distributes reimbursements to local governments, hospitals, nonprofits and other affected entities for their COVID-19 related expenses. Singleton says this approach hurts small and rural communities, which were already grossly underfunded before the coronavirus outbreak. He cites adequate personal protective equipment, transportation to testing centers, masks, ventilators, and contact tracing teams among the unmet essential needs in the communities he represents.
“We should not leave anything on the table. We need to be innovative to make sure that we are looking forward, and not just looking backwards with this money,” said Singleton.