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Hospitals say Alabama would gain by expanding Medicaid

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — If Alabama expanded Medicaid as 36 other states have done, it would see a return of $11 billion in increased economic activity, according to a study released Friday by a hospital association that is urging the expansion.

Alabama is one of 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The study, conducted by David J. Becker of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, found the state’s upfront cost would be $1 billion over four years. But it says the budget cost would largely be offset by the tax collections and benefits from the increased economic activity.

The study also estimated 340,000 mostly previously uninsured Alabamians would gain coverage.

“By failing to expand Medicaid over the next four years, we will leave $11 billion dollars on the table,” Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, which released the study, said at a news conference.

“On a more personal note, we will leave hundreds of thousands of Alabamians without health insurance, with limited access to health care and we will condemn significant numbers of our financially challenged rural hospitals to closure,” Williamson said.

Twelve Alabama hospitals have closed since 2011 and the organization said more could close without Medicaid expansion.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in September that Medicaid expansion is “desirable perhaps, but how are you going to pay for it?”

“We must weigh what is most beneficial for the people of Alabama and for the state as a whole” before making a decision to add people to the Medicaid program, she added Friday in a statement. “Adequate funding must be ensured to continue providing our current level of services.”

Ivey in November defeated challenger Walt Maddox who ran for governor on a Medicaid expansion platform.

The organization of state hospitals this fall announced a push for Medicaid expansion, urging state politicians to view it as an economic development project and the state’s share of costs as an investment. Williamson said he remained hopeful despite past opposition, and noted that “some very conservative states” have expanded their programs.

State infrastructure is expected to be the top topic of the upcoming legislative session. Lawmakers are planning to debate a gas-tax increase to fund road and bridge construction.

“Hospitals and health care are every bit as important for infrastructure, and as much a part of infrastructure as roads and bridges,” Williamson said. “Otherwise, you end up building roads to communities that are dying because they lost their hospital.”

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