Medicaid reform step closer to reality
by WILL HEATH
ST. CLAIR COUNTY — Statewide Medicaid reform is one step closer to reality after this week in the Alabama Legislature.

The comprehensive reform package that would decentralize the state’s Medicaid program into various regions, with the hopes of greater efficiency and reduced costs, passed both the Alabama House of Representatives and the Senate this week. Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, chairman of the House Health Committee who sponsored the package in the House, said he expects the legislation to pass various committees and reach a final version by the end of next week.

“If I can keep the amendments off it, and prevent any changes from being made on the floor, which is my plan, the House should pass that bill, and then it will be signed into law,” McClendon said. “(Gov. Robert Bentley) is very supportive of that bill.”

Senate Health Committee Chairman Greg Reed, R-Jasper, sponsored the bill in the Senate. According to a release from Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, estimates show that taxpayers stand to save $250 million to $350 million from fiscal year 2015-2019 through enactment of this legislation.

Marsh praised Bentley, Medicaid Advisory Commission Chairman Dr. Don Williamson, Reed and members of the commission for addressing the issue.

“Coming up with long-term solutions to the systemic problems in Alabama’s Medicaid program has been a task of epic proportions and the outcome is vitally important to the financial future of our state,” Marsh said. “Gov. Bentley, Sen. Reed, Dr. Williams and each member of this commission deserve a great deal of credit for their willingness to join forces and tackle such a tough issue. This legislation will reduce costs to taxpayers without jeopardizing critical services to those who rely on Medicaid.”

McClendon said a timetable will be in place once the legislation takes effect. The first task will be defining the regions, which is required by the beginning of Fiscal Year 2014, Oct. 1.

“There are a number of steps outlined in the bill with specific dates that actually must be taken,” he said. “It’s very carefully laid out.”

The Medicaid reform package was part of a larger discussion about the 2013 General Fund budget, which passed the House this week after clearing the Senate earlier during the legislative year.

“The General Fund budget we were able to get out and balance it without hurting too many folks,” said Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston. “We weren’t able to give state employees a raise, but we were able to balance the budget and do the best we can.”

The budget proposal largely provides level funding for state agencies and includes increases for the Department of Corrections, the state court system, the Department of Human Resources and the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, said he participated in discussions regarding the omnibus gun bill that passed out of the Senate. Butler said the House Commerce and Small Business Committee was able to reach some compromises on the legislation and that most of the major players are now in support of the law.

“Grover Smith, who spoke yesterday on behalf of the Sheriff’s Association, he stated he liked this piece better than what it was originally,” Butler said. “Everybody, at the end of the day, came together. I fully expect this will pass and it will be the law.”

The two biggest changes, according to Butler, involve carrying a firearm at a public demonstration, which will remain prohibited, as well as prohibitions on keeping loaded firearms within reach of a driver.

“If you want to have it loaded beside you, you need a concealed carry permit,” he said. “But if you want to have it in your car, it has to be locked, unloaded and not within reach of the driver’s compartment, unless you have a permit.”

Butler said the new law also offers some civil lawsuit immunity for businesses.

“It’s a parking lot bill,” he said.

Attempts to reach Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds, and Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, were unsuccessful at press time Friday.

Contact Will Heath at wheath@thestclairtimes.com.

© 2013