Those outlandish ideas seem about as reasonable as the one Alabama Gov. Bentley announced on Tuesday. Alabama, the governor said, will not create a state-operated health insurance exchange as part of Obamacare, nor will it expand Medicaid to more Alabama residents lacking coverage. In basic terms, the exchange would be nothing more than a state-operated marketplace to give consumers more options in purchasing health insurance. Expanding Medicaid would offer coverage to an estimated 300,000 Alabama adults who lack coverage.
Bentley’s ideology is at the root of the choice. Obamacare, in his words, is “the worst piece of legislation ever passed in my lifetime.” He believes that if opponents “stand together, I do believe Congress is going to have to look at this again.”
Are you following this? At one point, we were assured Obamacare would be struck down by the Supreme Court. Alabama even wasted scarce state funds to take the matter to court. In fact, it was ruled constitutional by a 5-4 vote this spring.
This election season, Republicans sold themselves as the ones who if elected in 2012 would on “day one” repeal Obamacare. That strategy blew up in their faces as President Barack Obama won a decisive victory over Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent.
Now, with a Friday deadline for states to announce the intention to create health exchanges, Bentley and other Republican governors are heading back into the murky swamp of denial regarding Obamacare.
Our plea to Gov. Bentley is to reconsider his choice.
Let’s contemplate for a moment the general health of Alabamians. Thirteen percent of adults have been told they have diabetes, placing the state at the bottom of the nation, according to 2010 data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
According to the same survey, 36 percent of the state’s children are overweight or obese, once more putting us at the bottom of a state-by-state ranking.
Life expectancy in Alabama is better than only one other state — Mississippi. More than one-fifth of Alabamians smoke, a figure that lands us among the 10 worst states.
In summary, too many Alabamians are making poor health decisions. When considering the dollars spent to treat complications associated with smoking, eating poorly and leading a sedentary lifestyle, the economic toll is staggering for this state.
Yet, the governor cites the estimated costs as a reason for objecting to an Alabama-based health insurance exchange, an initiative Bentley once proclaimed he endorsed.
The governor was right when he endorsed the idea of exchanges, just as he is wrong in rejecting them. Creating a health exchange will attract massive amounts of federal dollars at the outset. (The feds pick up 100 percent of the costs from 2014 until 2017, when the state would pay for a portion of the expenses.)
Of course, looking after the well-being of all Alabamians isn’t cheap. The governor is right that the state will likely have to spend more money. The poor health of Alabamians is a testament to what being cheap gets us. What Alabama is doing — or, more precisely, what it’s not doing— has failed.
The ball is in the governor’s court. If he rejects this attractive option for improving the health of Alabama residents, then it’s his duty to inform us of his plan.