According to state-specific reports recently released by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, health-care reform would provide much-needed benefits for individual Alabamians. The Senate bill, containing similar provisions, would provide benefits comparable to the House proposal. If Congress enacts these measures, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that more than 400,000 uninsured Alabamians will have access to coverage.
Many of these will be low-income families with coverage thanks to an expansion of Medicaid, and for the first time in Alabama, that program will cover low-income childless adults. Additionally, 1.2 million Alabama households, largely middle-class, will qualify for affordability credits to help them purchase health coverage. Because of these coverage improvements, the cost of uncompensated care for hospitals and health-care providers in Alabama is predicted to fall by an astonishing $1.2 billion.
Currently, more than 80,000 people in the state have pre-existing medical conditions that could prevent them from buying health insurance. Under the legislation, insurance companies could no longer refuse to cover people with pre-existing conditions, so these Alabamians would be able to purchase affordable coverage. Also, in Alabama in 2008, there were 14,000 health care-related bankruptcies — those caused primarily because of health-care costs. Because this legislation caps yearly out-of-pocket costs and eliminates lifetime limits on benefits, families would be less likely to face financial ruin because of a medical condition.
Alabama's small businesses also stand to benefit greatly. Under the proposed reforms, the 100,000 small businesses in this state with up to 100 employees could choose to purchase coverage through a health insurance exchange, benefitting from group rates and a greater choice of insurers.
Additionally, approximately 89,000 small businesses in Alabama with up to 25 employees and average salaries under $40,000 would qualify for tax credits offsetting up to 50 percent of the cost of providing health insurance.
States eventually would incur some increased costs related to the expansion of Medicaid. Gov. Bob Riley recently noted as much in stating his opposition to the bills. However, the health benefits of Medicaid coverage for uninsured, low-income Alabamians and the related reductions in uncompensated care for providers would be significant.
While we must always be mindful of associated costs, those considerations should not prevent our support of this most beneficial legislation. Unfortunately, most social and human services in Alabama are grossly under-funded. Instead of opposing legislation that will benefit many Alabamians, we should plan for ways to meet the financial needs of such critical programs.
Given the significant benefits the pending federal legislation holds for Alabama, all of us should call upon our congressmen and governor to support these reforms. It is an opportunity to dramatically improve the health and well-being of so many Alabamians — an opportunity we should not let pass us by.
Vaughan Branch is a healthcare fellow for the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.