The Medicaid dilemma

IN THE STATEHOUSE

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in over 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in over 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

It is basic public policy that you either have to raise taxes or reduce government services. It has become a cardinal sin in Republican politics to even say the word tax much less enact any increase in revenue. Our legislature is now overwhelmingly Republican and they are real Republicans. They take their “no new tax” pledge seriously as does our Republican governor. Therefore, when the dicing and crafting of the 2013 budget was being processed, new revenue enhancement measures were not on the table. It is doubtful that you will see any tax increase proposals anytime soon in the Heart of Dixie.

The state’s new budget year begins this week. It will be horrendous. There are draconian cuts to basic state services. Alabama has a constitutional amendment that mandates a balanced budget. We are in dire straits but at least we are not deficit spending like other states. California is teetering on bankruptcy.

This past year’s budget was bad. Teacher and state employee pay was cut this time last year. However, if you think that last year was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. This is the year that the chickens have finally come home to roost. The federal stimulus manna from Heaven has provided a lifeline salvation for several years but those dollars are gone. This fiscal year may well be the worst dilemma since the Great Depression.

My contention is that it is worse than the Depression years. During that era the state provided fewer services. They had roads, prisons, and the highway patrol but new burgeoning programs, which began during the Lyndon Johnson Great Society years, did not exist. The Medicaid program was nonexistent.

Today, Medicaid accounts for an amazing 35 percent of the state’s General Fund Budget. Most state lawmakers point to this joint state/federal program as the obvious elephant in the room when it comes to making ends meet. It is a money-eating monster. However, what do you do when this monster is being fed by a carrot from our good Uncle Sam who does not worry about deficits? The state gets more than a two-dollar match from the federal government for every one dollar spent.

In case you think that this is a welfare program, think again. Chances are your Aunt Susie’s nursing home expenses are being paid by the Alabama Medicaid program. Currently, more than 70 percent of all nursing home patients in Alabama are on Medicaid.

Tough times call for solutions to problems. Many experts point to an obvious remedy for Medicaid. Many Alabamians could stay out of nursing homes if more of an effort was made to provide at-home services for older Alabamians. Home care is not only cost efficient, it is the preferred route for senior citizens. Alabama’s Medicaid program spent $900 million on nursing home care in 2011. The average cost to the state for a nursing home patient is $55,000 per year. The cost for people receiving at-home services is $11,000.

Most states are implementing a Medicaid See you next week.