TALLADEGA — A panel of Democratic candidates and health care professionals was left wondering Thursday night what was the best way to actually get the elephant into the room.
The Talladega and Calhoun County Democratic parties hosted a town hall-style meeting at the Ritz Theater in downtown Talladega on Thursday night to discuss expanding Medicaid in the state of Alabama under the Affordable Care Act. It was an evening that began with Parker Griffith, a candidate for governor, lamenting the lack of debate in Republican-controlled Montgomery, and ended with him admitting he was unsure how to get his message across to Republican voters.
Griffith said Gov. Robert Bentley’s refusal to expand Medicaid in the state is “not based on what's best for the people in Alabama, but on the fact that he doesn't like the current president. It appalls me that a man who signs his name with the initials M.D. would put politics before helping people."
Griffith, along with Jesse Smith, a candidate the U.S. House of Representatives in Alabama's 3rd Congressional District; David Becker, a University of Alabama at Birmingham professor; and Joel Taylor, president of Citizens Baptist Medical Center in Talladega, participated on the panel. The conversation was moderated by Bill Britt, an Alabama political journalist, and covered both the economic effect of expansion, as well as how it would benefit the lives of those who would be eligible for coverage.
"The non-disputed facts are about 300,000 people would receive coverage, 80 percent of whom would be newly insured," said Becker, who authored the study, called An Economic Evaluation of Medicaid Expansion in Alabama. "It would generate $12 billion annually for the state. We can quibble on how many jobs that would create, but with that money being pumped into our economy, it would have to be more than zero."
Becker, however, admitted he was at a loss when it came how to educate voters on the issue of Medicaid expansion, which was a question repeatedly asked of an audience of about 50 people Thursday night.
"Saying the same thing over and over for 18 months probably isn't the best way to get the message across," he said. "But that's what I've been doing."
Several audience members noted Thursday's night meeting felt more like a rallying cry for the converted that a discussion that would open anyone's eyes to expansion. Smith, however, said he felt like the meeting could be a good way to organize efforts, as well as share stories of the struggles of Alabama residents living without insurance.
"You have to tell people about the numbers and the stories, and that's how they'll see it," Smith said.
At least one Republican, however, was at the Ritz Thursday night. Buddy Campbell, a former chairman of the Talladega Republican Party, said it felt odd to be among Democrats Thursday, and probably even more odd to be agreeing with them. Campbell said as a son of a doctor, he believed the benefits of expanding Medicaid was not only great for the uninsured in the state, but for improving the health care industry in the state. His message for those across the party line was to get outside of established political lines, and start talking.
"It's up to all of you to go out and talk to people," he said. "Bring the conversation to them"