Ken Hare in Depth: Medicaid expansion, power rate cuts, stall in - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Ken Hare in Depth: Medicaid expansion, power rate cuts, stall in Alabama

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Add Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett to the list of Republican governors willing to consider expanding Medicaid in their states. If Corbett follows through on his apparent conversion announced recently, it would mean that a majority of the states would be moving forward with some sort of Medicaid expansion.

Sadly, even though Alabama has a medical doctor as its governor, the state apparently is not among those actively seeking to take advantage of hundreds of millions of federal dollars to bring better access to health care to some of its poorer citizens.

It's worse than that. The Washington Post web site has a map showing those states where Medicaid expansion under Obamacare is either "Moving forward at this time" or "Not moving forward at this time."  It's not surprising that Alabama is missing from the "moving forward' list.

But it also has a third category that includes states, such as Tennessee, where the debate is still ongoing. Alabama is not on that list, either.

And that is a pity. At the very least, this should be a major topic of debate in Alabama.               

Studies have shown that expanding Medicaid in Alabama would not only provide access to health care to more than 300,000 people, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost in the first three years and 90 percent or more after that.            

Economists estimate that such an expansion -- which, remember, would be paid for almost entirely with federal dollars -- would have a $20 billion economic impact in Alabama.  One study suggests that infusion of money could create 12,000 new jobs by 2016.            

Even many hard-core Republican governors are finding it difficult to turn up their noses at that kind of economic stimulus and opportunity for expanded health care access.            

However, it should be noted that Pennsylvania's Corbett is not likely to buy in fully to the Medicaid expansion as proposed by the Obama administration. He is more likely to follow the lead of such states as Arkansas and seek a federal waiver to use the Medicaid expansion funds to purchase private health coverage for low-income people on the law's health insurance marketplaces rather than enroll them in traditional Medicaid.            

It remains to be seen whether the Arkansas approach will be approved by the federal government, but at least the political leaders of those states are willing to explore various ways to access this huge pool of federal funds to benefit their people and state economies.         

Regardless of whether Alabama expands Medicaid, Alabamians are going to have to pay for their share of the cost of the expansion in other states. So Alabama taxpayers have every reason to wonder why their state is not going to share in the benefits of that expansion that they are going to have to finance.

WHAT DECREASE IN POWER RATES?            

I hope readers didn't get their hopes up that they would be seeing a big decrease in their electricity bills following all that hoopla surrounding the so-called rate hearings held recently by the Alabama Public Service Commission.            

Despite statements to the contrary by PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh, recent news reports indicate that residential power bills for Alabama Power Co. customers probably won't be going down appreciably any time soon -- and perhaps never.            

Two of the three Public Service commissioners opposed the formal rate hearings -- with witnesses under oath -- that almost every other state uses. Instead, they held "informal" hearings where anyone could say whatever they wanted. Only Commissioner Terry Dunn supported formal hearings.            

After the hearings, the PSC adopted a totally new way of determining how Alabama Power rates will be set, using something called "weighted cost of equity." Despite a dearth of public discussion beforehand, the PSC made this shift to this unique method of determining rates.     

This new method, Commissioner Dunn has said, would allow the power company to manipulate its profitability and rates by changing how its access to capital is divided between equity and debt.            

A spokesman for the company said that Alabama Power would not do anything to hurt its ratepayers.            

Meanwhile, the AARP called the new method of determining rates "one of the most utility-friendly rate formula plans ever conceived … giving consumers no realistic hope of rate relief." The AARP said regulatory commissions in every state where the new method has been proposed have rejected it.            

It has been decades since the PSC has held formal hearings on rates, but despite that, two commissioners chose to dramatically change the rate-making process.            

Alabamians deserve more transparency in the utility rate-setting process than commissioners Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden seem willing to give them. Only Commissioner Dunn seems willing to open the process up to the light of day.

DEJA VU FOR FORMER MPS SUPERINTENDENT            

Remember former Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Carlinda Purcell? Montgomery taxpayers should remember her, since it cost them almost a quarter of a million dollars to get rid of her back in 2006 after she could not get along with the Montgomery County School Board. 

Now Purcell is superintendent of the Reading School District in Pennsylvania, and as the former baseball manager Yogi Berra might put it, it appears to be "deja vu all over again."            

The news media has reported that Purcell has a "strained relationship" with her current board, even to the point that the board suspended her without pay for a week in July.            

Reading School System board members should not be surprised, especially if they had done their homework before hiring Purcell.  Not only did she have a contentious relationship with the Montgomery school board, prior to that she cited a lack of support from her board in Warren County, N.C., when she resigned from her superintendent's position there.

Copyright 2013 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at khare@wsfa.com.

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