Student Submission: Throwing Away Free Money

August 11, 2023 | Akshay Aluri, Medical Student


Do you like free money?

Everyone seems to except Alabama state legislators. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid to cover nearly all adults up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Line. As of today, Alabama remains one of only ten states that has refused to expand Medicaid to provide, per the Kaiser Family Foundation, 350,000 citizens access to healthcare. Recently, the Republican-led North Carolina state legislature came to an agreement with the governor to expand Medicaid by levying a small tax on big hospitals. One of the reasons behind North Carolina’s tentative Medicaid expansion was the dismal state of its rural hospitals and the extra financial incentive from the federal government.

The situation of rural hospitals in Alabama is, if anything, a great deal worse than the one that North Carolina is dealing with. The Alabama Hospital Association has reported that a dozen rural hospitals in our state are on the verge of immediate shutdown. While these hospitals have faced issues for years, the pandemic resulted in record losses of $1.5 billion since 2020–greater than any other state in the country–and their closure would have a deleterious impact on the health of our rural population by forcing them to drive farther to see a doctor. In addition to meeting the healthcare needs of 250,000 Alabamans, the expansion of Medicaid would provide much-needed relief to prevent these hospitals from shutting down. Furthermore, The Kaiser Family Foundation found that Medicaid expansion, in addition to bolstering rural hospitals, would decrease the share of our uninsured populations and, from a physician’s point of view, ensure a decline in uncompensated care.

While the prospect of our rural hospitals shutting down may seem terrifying to ordinary Alabamans, our state legislators and governor continue to insist that Alabama lacks the money to expand Medicaid. It is time to dispel this myth. If our state chooses to expand Medicaid, according to the ACA, the federal government would cover 90% of the costs for the expanded Medicaid coverage. But the incentive to expand Medicaid increased substantially in 2021 when President Biden signed The American Rescue Plan. The ARP offers every state willing to expand Medicaid a “signing bonus” and the additional funds–amounting to nearly a billion dollars per Jane Adams, the former Executive Director of Cover Alabama, a coalition of organizations supporting Medicaid Expansion–would pay for the cost of the expansion for nearly the first five years. Currently, 10% of Alabama’s population is uninsured and the Medicaid expansion would reduce that number substantially. It would allow for patients to get screened for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes early and get treatment for their chronic medical conditions. According to a study from University of California-Davis, the states that expanded Medicaid saw a decline in annual mortality among their most vulnerable populations.

For all the reasons listed above, it is high time that the politicians in Montgomery do right by our poorest citizens and expand Medicaid. It makes economic and moral sense to do so.