News Column

Medicaid Skirmish May Be First of Many in Alabama Senate

Feb 22, 2013

Tim Lockette

Republicans in the Alabama Senate abruptly cut off debate about a resolution urging Gov. Robert Bentley to expand Medicaid Thursday. Senate Democrats say they could bring the resolution back again.

"We have an opportunity to introduce one every day in the session," said Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville.

Senators typically open every day of business with committee reports and non-binding resolutions, before beginning work on the day's bills. On Thursday morning, Minority Leader Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, introduced a resolution urging Bentley to expand Medicaid coverage to an additional 300,000 people -- something other governors have done under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Most recently, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced a decision to expand the program Wednesday, after initially rejecting the expansion.

Bentley has said the state can't afford to enlarge the program in its current form. The state's cost for Medicaid has grown substantially in recent years, due largely to post-recession unemployment rates, and Bentley has been pushing for reform of the program.

The Medicaid measure never came to a vote. President Pro Tem Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, requested that the Senate go into recess, a measure that got a quick vote of approval in the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats in the chamber stood and shouted that Marsh's move was a violation of Senate rules.

"The lieutenant governor didn't let Sen. Figures explain the resolution, which you're supposed to do according to the rules," Bedford said.

Marsh said the resolution needed to go to the Rules Committee, where the Senate's agenda is set.

"The Governor has already said he doesn't intend to expand Medicaid," he said.

The Senate skirmish might not be the session's last. Democrats have pledged to keep the Medicaid issue alive, at least in the Senate. Republican supermajorities have made major Democratic legislative victories highly unlikely this year. Last week, Senate Democrats announced that their top priority for the session was to get Bentley to bend on Medicaid.

Democrats say the Medicaid expansion, funded completely by the federal government in the first three years, would bring billions of dollars into the economy.

"It would be bigger than Airbus," Bedford said, referring to a recent deal to bring an aircraft manufacturing operation to the Mobile area.

Senators returned to the chamber at noon Thursday, after the abrupt recess, but the resolution wasn't discussed.


Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2013 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.)

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