U.S. Sen. Doug Jones says Alabama needs to expand its Medicaid program, says failure doesn’t make any fiscal sense

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said Wednesday Alabama missed an opportunity by not expanding its Medicaid rolls in 2014.

Jones introduced a bill Wednesday that would require a federal agency to provide annual summary data on how each state has been impacted – in terms of federal dollars and individuals covered – by the decision to expand Medicaid or not.

During a conference call from Washington, Jones said Alabama is missing out.

“The decision to reject expansion, Medicaid expansion, is I believe a moral failure that doesn’t make any fiscal sense,” he said.

Then-Gov. Robert Bentley formally opposed expanding the state’s Medicaid program and the federal money that went with it back in 2013.

“And I can’t think of anything worse than expanding an entitlement program,” Bentley said. “I am totally against that.”

Jones said the cost of that decision can now be measured.

“It cost taxpayers in Alabama literally billions of dollars of their own money. And they’ve kept more than 200,000 people from accessing health care and have threatened the security of rural hospitals,” he said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a study in March 2018 that reviewed numerous studies on the cost and health care effects on states that expanded Medicaid programs. The study generally found health care coverage increases and fewer uninsured residents.

Cost factors were still being reviewed, but early year data showed no increase in state spending for Medicaid. But so far, there was less data on a significant issue -- expected growing state costs when federal reimbursements shrunk from 100 percent down to 90 percent.

Jones is also co-sponsoring a bill from U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., that would give states that expand their Medicaid programs three years of full federal funding just like back in 2014.

Jones’ office described the bill in a news release.

“This means that a state like Alabama would receive the same funding deal from the federal government if it expanded Medicaid today as a state that took the deal before 2014,” according to the news release. “Under current law, states that expand Medicaid after 2014 receive lower federal matching rates.”

But Alabama would have to approve an expansion of Medicaid. State officials have opposed such a move, citing the reduced federal aid over time and an expected increased cost to the state. Jones said he believes the tide is turning on the issue in states that opted out of Medicaid expansion, including Alabama.

“While the final decision still rests with leaders in the state, I’ll continue to advocate for expansion,” Jones said. “It’s a smart thing to do for our state budget, but it’s also just the right and moral thing to do for Alabamians.”