Gov. Ivey, it’s time to expand health care in Alabama

Jennifer Greer 

By Jennifer L. Greer, a self-employed journalist and retired teacher from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). She lives in Gardendale, AL. 

After some sleepless nights, I wrote an urgent letter to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. I do not know the new governor, who has only been in office since April. I am just one person, one of 4.8 million Alabamians. But I could think of no one else.

Besides, the governor is a woman. And my husband’s favorite aunt, Theda, a spunky Auburn University graduate in her 90s, has known Gov. Ivey forever and spoken well of her. I weighed my distrust of politicians with Theda’s take on the governor and took heart.     

Before hitting the “send” button, I emailed my letter to a woman friend for feedback. “I can’t sleep either,” she said, tersely. “I want to sign it, too.” She forwarded the letter to her friends, who sent it on to their friends. Within 48 hours, 125 women had signed the letter.

Why the collective insomnia? Health care. We were and still are — worried sick about it. We are worried for ourselves, our families, and our state.

Who are we? We are teachers, doctors, stay-at-home moms, entrepreneurs, editors, nurses, realtors, students, part-time instructors, consultants, retirees, and business owners. We have children with pre-existing conditions who won’t lose coverage if we change our jobs. We have aging parents on Medicare. We have grandchildren on Medicaid, children on CHIP, and adult children on our own insurance policies. We are self-employed cancer survivors with insurance for the first time. We are proud business owners who can’t afford premiums. We are Alabama.

We worry because the President says he plans to let the national health care system fail, and he has already taken steps to do so, according to Kaiser Health News. Such a planned failure or a repeal of the current health care law could leave 32 million people uninsured and eliminate life-saving consumer protections and cost controls for everyone.

We worry because, for six months, one party in the U.S. Congress, including most of the Alabama delegation, has tried repeatedly to overturn our national health care system. Never mind that we voters sent all of our elected officials to Washington D.C. to improve the system (Americans are 51 percent – percent in favor of repair over replacement), according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.  

We worry because Alabama, a poor state with 40 percent of our children on Medicaid, would see families hit hard if our national health care system fails or is repealed, according to Families USA. Also at stake is Alabama’s prized $50 billion dollar health care industry, which employs thousands of people, in small towns and big cities, and includes some of the best hospitals in the country.

We worry because our President and leaders in Congress don’t seem to know how to repair our national health care system. Yet the nation’s health care providers, patient advocacy groups and insurance companies say our system could be fixed, in the short term, by taking three steps: 1) stabilizing the insurance markets; 2) lowering drug prices; 3) and expanding access to coverage, especially Medicaid.

We have been relieved to see the nation’s governors get involved in the national health care debate, issuing a bipartisan statement on a path forward. Yet Gov. Ivey has offered Alabamians little more than sound bites on a subject that keeps us awake at night. And last week, she cancelled an innovative shift from costlier fee-for-service Medicaid to direct-service-provider managed care, which cuts out the middleman, saves money and improves care.

We would sleep better if we knew how committed the governor is the health care system in Alabama.  In our letter, we asked Gov. Ivey to issue a public statement that:

1)      Affirms health care as a fundamental  Alabama value for the welfare of its citizens and the stability of its $50 billion dollar health care economy and urges level funding of the current national health care system to prevent destabilization of families and markets;

2)      Recommends that Congress slow down reform until a good bipartisan repair bill emerges from an honest process involving key stakeholders (medical/industry professionals, patient advocates, Congressional Budget Office, and governors).

Some people see health care as a political issue, but we do not. We do not think for a minute that we can solve our health care problems by pitting one Alabama family against another. Rather, we see health care as a moral issue, an economic issue, and, most importantly, a leadership issue.

And we are waiting.

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