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Ala. Medicaid Committee Looks At Pros And Cons Of Expanding Program

By Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.

Nov. 08--With the Affordable Care Act all but certain to fully implemented, a state committee studying the future of the state's Medicaid program Thursday morning took a "post-mortem" of the election and what it means for health care in the state.

Lawmakers face big decisions and pressing deadlines. Gov. Robert Bentley has not yet said if he will opt into an expansion of Medicaid eligibility offered by the ACA that will be paid by the federal for the first three years.

"By definition, Medicaid is going to expand is we do nothing," said Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, a co-chair of the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Medicaid. "As planners and legislators, we have to anticipate what's going to happen on the Medicaid piece."

Nearly 1 million Alabamians are enrolled in Medicaid; nearly half of its beneficiaries are children.

After 2017, states would pay a growing share of the expansion, though the federal government would still bear most of the costs. By 2020, states would have to pay about 10 percent of the expansion. Alabama lawmakers, however, have argued that the tight General Fund budget, which pays for Medicaid, would make any additional funding difficult.

The Medicaid expansion would cover all able-bodied adults between the ages of 19 and 65 who makes 133 percent or less of the poverty level: $30,567 for a family of four. Those individuals are usually not covered in the program.

If the state opted out of the expansion, those individuals might be able to obtain insurance through a health insurance exchange, a place where customers can price private insurance plans and apply for subsidies. But Joy Wilson, director of health care policy for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the committee by phone that that would be a significantly larger expense.

"To cover an individual in Medicaid would cost $6,000," she said. "That same individual in an exchange would cost $9,000."

Wren said after the meeting those new costs would likely be borne by small businesses, and said Medicaid expansion was something the state should look into.

The state also faces a Nov. 16 deadline to tell the Department of Health and Human Services whether they want to set up a state-run health insurance exchange, allow the federal government to design the program or opt for a mixture of the two. Although the state is unlikely to be able to provide a blueprint of a state insurance exchange by a week from Friday, Wilson and other committee expressed concerns that HHS had not given a blueprint for a federally-run exchange.

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"We don't really have much information on how the federal exchanges are going to work, and how that cooperative agreement will work," she said.

The state may be able to give HHS a statement of its intent, Wren said. Wilson also told committee members there was a process for transitioning from a federally-run exchange to one run by the state, if the state allowed the federal government to run its exchange.

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(c)2012 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)

Visit the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.) at www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Wordcount: 516


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