Jesse Salinas: Older Alabamians need larger safety net
by Jesse Salinas
Special to The Star
Jun 16, 2013 | 2203 views |  0 comments | 183 183 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A strong economic case has been made for why Alabama should make Medicaid health coverage available to more of our citizens. Some go so far as to say the positive impact on our economy alone justifies giving more Alabamians access to Medicaid.

That may be so. But it’s a mistake to look at this issue only in terms of dollars and cents. We should not overlook the extraordinary impact affordable health care would have on the lives of our family members, neighbors and friends who now struggle to pay for health insurance or can’t afford it at all.

In Alabama, 500,000 people with incomes just above the poverty level could become eligible for Medicaid under the terms of the federal health law.

Here at AARP Alabama, we are especially interested in more than 55,000 Alabamians between the ages of 50 and 64 who would become eligible and who now may be hurting for health care.

Many of them worked hard their whole lives, but were laid off when companies restructured or moved their jobs overseas.

Unfortunately, their many years of experience may actually have worked against them in the job market. Did you know that people seeking jobs above age 50 are often advised to shorten their resumes to disguise their age? It’s sad but true: In looking for a job, it’s better to be seen as less experienced than to be seen as old.

That’s why older workers often have to look harder and longer for new jobs when they become unemployed. It’s also why many of them end up underemployed, in jobs that don’t provide health insurance and don’t pay enough to cover the cost of a policy.

Most of us know people who’ve been there. And many of us wake up in the middle of the night, worrying we could be next.

Alabama has a wonderful opportunity to provide this security to older workers.

Specifically, the health care law allows states to make Medicaid available to people and families earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. This year, the cutoff would be just less than $16,000 for an individual and just less than $33,000 for a family of four.

This includes not just older workers but many low-income younger workers — people who can barely make ends meet, much less pay for health insurance if it is not supplied through their jobs.

For these Alabamians, Medicaid coverage would mean access to routine medical care that would help keep them healthy and productive. And if they were to get sick, they’d at least have the assurance of knowing they are covered for treatment.

The federal government will pay most of the cost of offering this bigger safety net. The state of Alabama ultimately would have to pay only 10 percent of the cost, and if that small portion becomes too costly, the state can simply reverse course.

That is less likely to happen thanks to Medicaid reforms pushed by Gov. Robert Bentley and passed this year by Alabama’s Legislature.

Their hard work and efforts have placed Medicaid on stronger financial footing. Now, it’s time to make sure Medicaid is there for hardworking Alabamians who have helped support the program all their lives and now need a little support themselves.

Jesse Salinas is the state director of AARP Alabama. Email:
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Jesse Salinas: Older Alabamians need larger safety net by Jesse Salinas
Special to The Star

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