By Doug Jones
Special to the
Opelika Observer

Over the past year and a half, I’ve spent much of my time traveling across Alabama hearing from folks about how we can improve access to health care in our state. I’ve met with medical providers, nurses, hospital administrators, patients, and people who are just trying to get the care they need for themselves and their families. And the thing that everyone has agreed on is that we need to be making it easier for people to get the health care they need, not harder.
That’s why I’m so concerned right now about the ongoing efforts to repeal our country’s health care law.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen Republicans in Congress and in Alabama try again and again to weaken or even get rid of the Affordable Care Act completely — without offering any kind of feasible replacement plan. Now don’t get me wrong, the current health care law isn’t perfect – no law is. But overturning it would leave millions of people without health care and would destabilize our entire health care market.
And folks, their efforts to undermine the health care law are working: recently released Census data shows that 32,000 fewer people in Alabama were insured in 2018 than 2017. And since 2011, 13 hospitals have closed in Alabama and seven of those hospitals were in rural areas.
We should be working together to make the law work better, to lower drug prices, and to make it easier for folks to get the care they need – not creating instability that causes people to lose their insurance and threatening to dismantle the whole thing without even offering a replacement. But that’s exactly what’s happening right now.
Twenty states, including Alabama, have filed a lawsuit claiming that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional and calling for overturning it immediately. The Trump administration has publicly come out to support that argument, and the lawsuit is currently being considered by a federal appeals court.
If successful, this lawsuit would hurt the millions of Americans who rely on health insurance made possible by this law. And for people with pre-existing conditions or who rely on this coverage for expensive medications or treatments, upholding this law could literally be a life or death matter.
And if the law is overturned, Alabama is one of the states with the most to lose. More than 166,000 Alabamians could lose their health insurance. One-third of people under the age of 65 in Alabama – more than 942,000 people – have a pre-existing condition and could be denied coverage or charged more for health care.
Before the law was passed, health insurance companies could deny coverage for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, cancer, and pregnancy – and the list goes on and on. The Affordable Care Act also ended the practice of imposing annual or lifetime caps on health care coverage and gave more Americans access to preventative and maternal care.
Increasing access to health care isn’t just the right thing to do for Alabamians, it makes financial sense too. That’s why earlier this year, I introduced a bill to incentivize states like ours to expand Medicaid. By refusing to expand Medicaid, Alabama has turned away $14 billion of our own taxpayer dollars. That money could have helped keep our hospitals open, supported good jobs in our communities, and provided health coverage for hundreds of thousands of Alabamians.
If Alabama had expanded Medicaid five years ago, it could have created a $935 million increase in tax revenue for the state and could have led to approximately 12,000 new jobs across all sectors of Alabama’s economy in 2016 alone. Medicaid expansion would be a huge boon to Alabama’s economy, especially as our state’s farming and manufacturing industries have taken hit after hit recently as a result of the administration’s trade wars.
For years, Alabama’s rural hospitals have been warning public officials about the financial cliff they are facing, and expanding Medicaid would provide a huge boost to help them keep their doors open. Instead, Republican politicians in Montgomery and Washington are cheering on efforts to take our health care away. It doesn’t make any financial sense, and it sure doesn’t make any sense for the people of Alabama.
I just don’t think that’s right. I’m going to keep fighting to make quality health care in Alabama more affordable and easier to access – and I will always stand up against any attempts to take that care away.