Republican lawmakers started the process of how to implement the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," Thursday.
The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid met to hear analysis of what could be in store for the state if it were expand the Medicaid program under the guidelines of the federal healthcare law.
"We're looking at every component piece of making sure that every taxpayer dollar is properly spent" said Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Wren (R – Montgomery).
Alabama's Medicaid program has about 950,000 clients. If it were to expand, then more than 400,000 Alabamians would be eligible to enroll. Medicaid is healthcare program funded by both the federal government and the state to provide services for low income Alabamians.
Since President Barack Obama won reelection Tuesday night, as well as Democrats maintaining control of the US Senate, any hopes Republicans had of a repeal of the federal healthcare law, dissipated.
"It's about time that we start to work with the president, with the Congress, because it is what it is" said Sen. Vivian Figures (D – Mobile), a longtime Obama supporter. "We might as well be positive and move in a positive direction."
Figures supports expanding the Medicaid program. She says if there is a way to provide healthcare for people who have fallen on tough times, the state should figure out a way to do it. She says as the economy improves, the dependence on programs like Medicaid will decrease.
"As we rebuild the economy, get good paying, living wage jobs for our constituents, then we can move them off of the Medicaid roll" Figures said.
Governor Robert Bentley had long been an opponent of the federal healthcare law. A dermatologist himself, the governor disagreed with the mandate coming from the federal government.
After the United States Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act as a tax, Gov. Bentley depended on President Obama and the Democratic being replaced by Republicans in the upcoming election. He had hoped that with the GOP in control of the Legislative and Executive Branches of the Federal Government, that a repeal of "Obamacare" would become reality.
Now that the law will remain in place, Governor Robert Bentley now says he will abide by the first deadline of the Affordable Care Act next week, when the state needs to inform the Department of Health and Human Services as to how it will implement a statewide health insurance exchange.
Any decision on the expansion of Medicaid will have to be made by both the legislature and the governor.
"Whether we expand it or not we have to manage what we currently have because it is taking 35% of our state's General Fund budget and the taxpayers are demanding accountability" Rep. Greg Wren said.
"I definitely think it's time to deal with it" Wren added after the meeting. "Embracing it is difficult. That suggests we want to grab some pillows and have some conversations. I don't think that's the case, but it's the reality."
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