While the Bush administration tax cuts put money in the pockets of those whose pockets were already stuffed, income for those in the middle remained essentially flat. Meanwhile, the cost of living has gone up. And today, the median household income in Alabama — $40,596 — doesn't buy what it bought when the 21st century began.
Among the many things eating up middle-class paychecks have been the rising costs of health care and health insurance.
Because health insurance costs so much, many companies that employ Alabama's middle class cannot afford to provide it for their workers. That's especially true of small, family owned businesses.
And, because health insurance costs so much, many members of Alabama's middle class cannot afford to buy it on their own — especially if they have children.
Fortunately for Alabama families at the median, AllKids has been there. This federally subsidized initiative under the Children's Health Insurance Program insures families earning twice the poverty level. Today, it provides coverage for 68,971 young Alabamians.
However, families above the median also are struggling, which is why, beginning Oct. 1, AllKids will expand to include children in households earning $66,156 annually. This means approximately 12,000 formerly uninsured children will be brought into the program.
The coverage is not free. Based on family income, the annual premiums are up to $100 per child, considerably less than coverage would cost under private providers.
The cost to the state is approximately $7 million. The rest will come from the federal government.
What this means is that families in the middle class will have more disposable income that they can use for food, clothing, housing and other things. Those sales will stimulate the economy and do their part to pull Alabama out of the recession.
Despite objections from Gov. Bob Riley, the state Legislature put this in the budget it passed and then overrode the governor when he vetoed the spending bill. Riley said his veto also was a protest against legislative pork, but he is on record as opposing this expansion.
Others, however, have praised the Legislature for taking this step. According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, Alabama is "a leader in children's coverage."
Thus, another piece of the health insurance puzzle is put in place.
Rather than this piecemeal approach to the nation's health insurance needs, wouldn't it be better if government could put together a plan that would hold down the cost of health care and provide affordable coverage for all citizens who need it?
That is what some people in Washington are trying to do.
That's also what some representatives from Alabama are trying to keep from happening.