HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-It's a skyrocketing expense that state legislators say they simply can't keep up with. The cost of Medicaid is now eating up a sizable chunk of Alabama's yearly budget, and one local lawmaker says it's time to cut back on costs by taking control from the feds.
State Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison) is sponsoring the Medicaid Compact bill, which would transfer responsibility for the Medicaid program from the federal government to the state of Alabama. Ball told WHNT News 19 that Medicaid spending now accounts for more than one-third of Alabama's general fund budget, a long-term cost he calls unsustainable due to the recent expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
"The Medicaid system has turned into this huge monster that no one can control," said Rep. Ball. "It's growing faster than we can keep up with...the federal government tries to micro-manage too many things on the state level, and health care is one of them."
Ball's Medicaid Compact bill has already passed the Alabama House, with a vote in the State Senate expected soon. However it also requires approval from both houses of Congress, a prospect that appears unlikely for now in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.
Ball said transferring responsibility for Medicaid to the state would free Alabama from costly regulations that are currently administered by the federal government. Under the present setup, the state partially matches money they receive from the feds, but those federal dollars are tied to Alabama abiding by the growing list of federal guidelines. The state is given an annual bill from Washington, and has little say on how much they can or can't spend.
Ball said his bill calls for federal money being awarded to Alabama as a block grant with no strings attached, allowing local officials to determine the size of the program. Six other states have also filed Medicaid Compact legislation.
"If we were able to just block grant the money and manage the dollars in the way that would be best for the consumer, and at the same time best for the taxpayers, we would be more efficient," said Ball. "We've already got it [Medicaid Compact] ready to go. If Congress ever turns, we just need a simple majority vote and congressional approval to approve a compact."
Critics of the compact plan say that the new Obamacare guidelines mandate federal dollars covering roughly ninety percent of all Medicaid costs, and argue that states like Alabama could actually see potential savings. But Rep. Ball said thousands of new regulations in Obamacare add up to tens of billions in new state spending that would erase any short-term windfall. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) has already vowed not to accept increased Medicaid funding from the new law. States can choose whether or not to allow the federal expansion of Medicaid under the Supreme Court’s decision last year to uphold Obamacare.
Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia are some of the other states who have filed Medicaid Compact legislation. The proposed change does not require the signature of President Obama, part of the Compact clause in the U.S. Constitution.
Medicaid is a health program for families and individuals with low income and resources.