Sen. Waggoner: Alabama should consider Medicaid expansion to save rural hospitals

    Medicaid funding

    The Alabama Hospital Association makes a big push for Medicaid expansion, saying the state's hospitals are in the worst financial shape they've ever been in and more rural hospitals are at risk of closing.

    “If the hospital closes, you’ve just lost access for everyone in the community, not just the Medicaid patients,” warned Dr. Don Williamson, President of the Alabama Hospital Association.

    Alabama is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid and there's never been serious consideration to do so.

    That changes this year, according to Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R- Vestavia Hills).

    “We’ve got to find a way to keep these rural hospitals open and Medicaid is probably the answer to it,” Waggoner told ABC 33/40. “So I think we’re going to take a lot closer look at the Medicaid issue this year, expansion Medicaid, than in times past.”

    Senator Waggoner says the chance for Medicaid expansion is stronger right now than any year before.

    "I think the legislature has got to look out with a very serious eye this fiscal year, or this legislative season," said Waggoner.

    Twelve hospitals in Alabama have closed since 2011. Six of those were rural.

    “There’s lot of rural hospitals that live off of Medicaid, and if we don’t do something about the Medicaid issue this fiscal year, this legislative year, you’re going to see small rural hospitals closing and I’m not sure that’s what we want to do,” said Waggoner.

    Lakeland Community Hospital in Haleyville was so cash strapped in 2017, it almost closed. People like George Kruto were scared.

    “Boy, to not have a place where you can go in an emergency can be scary and frightening, especially to people in fragile condition,” Kruto told us in 2017.

    The Haleyville community saved its hospital with public money.

    Dr. Williamson is president of the Alabama Hospital Association. He says other rural hospitals may not be so fortunate.

    He says half of Alabama's hospitals are operating in the red.

    “What you can absolutely know is, you can only lose money for a finite amount of time until you go broke,” Williamson said. “So in the absence of Medicaid expansion, some of our hospitals that are struggling will probably close, I would say in the next year without Medicaid expansion.”

    Williamson stood with hospital leaders from across the state Friday, announcing plans to fight for expansion of Medicaid.

    “I say the likelihood is a lot stronger today than it has been the last two, three, four years,” said Waggoner. “I think we’ll take a lot closer look at that issue today than recent history. It’s all about dollars and cents. Can we find it? That’s the big question.”

    Most money for expansion would come from the federal government, but Alabama would have to pay the state's match.

    Williamson estimates Alabama's cost to be $168 million the first year and around $25 million annually after that.

    Williamson argues the economic impact would be worth the investment from Alabama.

    “You’re actually added $2B in direct dollars (to Alabama),” he said. “You’re adding another billion in economic activity, so you’re adding $3B to the Alabama economy in one year for $23 million dollars.”

    In a statement, Governor Kay Ivey did not endorse, or rule out expansion.

    "Before any decisions are made regarding additional services or adding people into the Medicaid program, we must weigh what is most beneficial for the people of Alabama and for the state as a whole. Adequate funding must be ensured to continue providing our current level of services,” Ivey said.

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