MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Lawmakers dealt a lethal blow to the state's healthcare system this week, passing a General Fund Budget with an $85 million Medicaid shortfall.
The move could close doctor's offices, hospitals, adult prescription plans and dialysis clinics.
The dismal Medicaid budget could cost the state more than its health, doctors and potential for economic development. Alabama could be the first state to lose its Medicaid program.
"We are operating so close to the minimum federal standards currently, these cuts will likely bring us below those standards and cause the federal government to withdraw that partnership," Alabama Arise Policy Director Jim Carnes explained.
Medicaid is the lifeline for 600,000 children and 400,000 adults, representing senior citizens and the disabled.
Carnes calls the cuts unacceptable and in part irreversible, made on the backs of the most vulnerable population.
"The Legislature says there is no appetite for new revenue," Carnes stated. "It's hard for us to understand how they can look at the consequences of the budget they've now embraced and say that, in itself, is not sufficient cause for doing the difficult job of finding the revenue. This is gaining national attention. That message is not going to be lost. The legislature owns that message loud and clear."
The message typically lost when considering the impact of Medicaid cuts is that Medicaid keeps the state's health infrastructure afloat. The cut will likely mean losing doctors and hospitals everyone depends on.
"A lot of people view Medicaid from a distance and think it is not affecting their lives," Carnes said. "I'd like to say in Alabama we are all on Medicaid because we all depend on services and facilities that would not be possible without Medicaid funding."
The cut would also be a one-two punch to the state's economy, as it would decrease the opportunity to recruit new industries.
"I can only imagine what an industry would think in looking at a perspective state and seeing that state has failed to strengthen and shore up its fundamental healthcare system," Carnes said.
Carnes says it's been difficult to gain any real traction with the Legislature on this issue, with few allies that understand the dire consequences of this cut.
"We are disappointed we again find ourselves in this game of chicken, because we think that is no way to run a state and no way to run basic services," Carnes said. "One dilemma the legislature has posed this time around is a number of the leaders have said, 'We are not going to do anything until there's a public outcry.' If you stop and think about that, they are really asking these people who depend on Medicaid as their lifeline, literally their lifeline, to beg for basic services."
Lawmakers have 10 days left in the session to shore up any funds to patch the ailing Medicaid system.