Trump Administration plans to ‘repeal and replace’ Affordable Care Act raises concern in Alabama

By: Mynecia Steele, Special to the Democrat

After two unsuccessful tries, the Trump Administration was able last week to convince the U. S. House of Representatives to narrowly pass, by a 217 to 213 vote, a measure to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare.
Trump and members of the House Republican leadership celebrated victory last week in the White House Rose Garden. Trump called the legislation “a great healthcare plan that will give all Americans access to health care at lower premiums and better care.” But many questions and concerns remain before this legislation passes the U. S. Senate and reaches the President’s desk for final signature.
“The Trump administration may make changes in the ACA, but will not totally repeal it while President Trump is in office,” said Elmore Patterson, CEO of the Greene County Health System, which operates the hospital, nursing home and a physician’s clinic in Greene County.
“Eliminating the Affordable Care Act will leave even more Americans without healthcare,” said Patterson. He sees the attempts to repeal the ACA as a “waste of time.” There does not seem to be a thought-out replacement for the ACA. The repeal will only increase the number of uninsured citizens, and that is not what the country needs,” said Patterson. A study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said as many as 24 million people will loose health care under the Trump proposal.
“The thing is, they would have to find a way to keep the good things about the Affordable Care Act, and get rid of the bad,” said Patterson.
Former Governor Robert Bentley never allowed the expansion of Medicaid in Alabama. So, Alabamians never reaped the full benefits of the Affordable Care Act, said Patterson. Many low income working people, who made more than the base minimum of around $5,000 annually to qualify for Medicaid and less than the $15,000 annually to qualify for subsidies on the ACA state exchange, were left out of care. The Supreme Court gave states the discretionary power to expand or not expand Medicaid for people up to 138% of the state poverty level ($11,000 for an individual in Alabama). Alabama did not expand Medicaid and over 300,000 people, some of the poorest and the sickest in the state, were left without insurance coverage.

Alabama healthcare will be further limited with President Trump’s plan, said Dr. Dedra Reed of the Franklin Primary Health Center, in Mobile, Alabama. “I don’t think Trump should repeal Obamacare, because millions of people would lose coverage. Medicaid won’t be expanded, and many rural hospitals will be forced close down because they will not have people who can pay for needed healthcare.”
In 2015, AP reported that eight rural Alabama hospitals were closed within the last 15 years. Many others are staying open with subsidies and support from sales taxes and other local non-healthcare generated support.
When former President Obama’s administration originally proposed the Affordable Care Act, and even after it was approved the public reacted in both negative and positive ways.
“Current health care with Obamacare has given many people healthcare coverage without being penalized for preexisting conditions,” said Dr. Dedra Reed of the Franklin Primary Health Center, in Mobile, Alabama. “I think it can be improved by lowering premiums and making it more affordable for everyone.”
Proposals for a new health plan have received similar reactions.  “I make so little money, I can’t qualify for subsidies in health care plans–at least as far as I’m currently aware,” said Lyra Galle, a senior Professional and Public Writing, and English major at Troy University. “The health care plan my mom has through work doesn’t allow family members on the plan, so that puts me in a sticky situation.” Obamacare does allow insurance companies to cover students and young adults, up to age 26, to be covered on their parent’s health care plans.
“Ultimately, before Obamacare, with Obamacare, or the Republican health care plan that recently passed wouldn’t have benefited me. I think it’s a bad idea to repeal Obamacare, and I think it’s a move purely to spite Democrats.” People are uncertain that President Trump will successfully pass a new healthcare plan while in office. And, some don’t want him to. Galle is one of those uncertain people. “I didn’t think Trump would win the election, but he did. At this point, I don’t know what to expect,” Galle said.

Sheriff Joe Benison meets with Hospital Board to discuss bingo funds

Sheriff- Hostil

L to R: GCHS Board members: Margaret Bir, Sheriff Benison, Lucy Spann, Elmore Patterson, Jasmine Smith, Pinnia Hines, Shirley Edwards and Rosemary Edwards. Not shown are Eddie Austin and John Zippert who also attended the meeting.

Greene County Sheriff Jonathan “Joe” Benison, together with his executive assistant and bingo clerks, met with the Greene County Health System (GCHS) Board of Directors as part of their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss with the Board their concerns over the status of payments from electronic bingo parlors to the GCHS, which operates the hospital, nursing home, physicians clinic and home health services.
On June 2, 2016, Sheriff Benison adopted a new rule for bingo which stipulated that the Greene County Hospital was to receive a fee of 4% of the amount paid to vendors, who provide bingo machines, to be paid to the hospital for providing health care services to the residents of Greene County.

The Sheriff adopted this rule change as a way to share some of the revenues generated by electronic bingo, under Alabama Constitutional Amendment 743, with the Greene County Health Care System.
Based upon estimates from the bingo clerks, Elmore Patterson, CEO of the Greene County Health System projected receiving $3,500 per month from each of the four operating bingo parlors as of June 2016. This would total $14,000 per month or $168,000 per year.

The GCHS Board informed the Sheriff that since adoption of the rule in June 2016, the health facilities have not received these 4% fees from the vendors. The GCHS has received an average of $5,133 per month for the hospital and $ 1,104 per month for the residential care center (nursing home). These averages include a one-time payment of $30,000 from Greenetrack and smaller donations as a sub-charity from all of the bingo operation. The Anchor Group, the charity operating the River’s Edge Bingo facility is the only operation that has been paying the 4% vendors fee under the Sheriff’s rules.
Sheriff Benison said that he understood the Greene County Health System’s concerns with the shortfall in the 4% vendors fee.
He said that he wanted to discuss this with the bingo operators, including the Palace Bingo, a new electronic bingo hall at the Knoxville Exit on Interstate 20/59. He said that after he consults with the bingo operators that he and his clerks would report back to the GCHS Board of Directors.
Elmore Patterson thanked the Sheriff for attending the meeting and said, “Health care is critical to Greene County. The GCHS is providing quality health care to residents of Greene County and surrounding areas. I just reported to the Board that we had an overall operating loss of $538,000 for the first six months of this fiscal year, which began October 1, 2016. This loss matches the half a million dollars of uncompensated care that the GCHS provided to Greene County citizens, during the same time period, with limited incomes who lack insurance or other health care payers. We are looking to electronic bingo, the county government and others sources to help us cover our deficit which basically comes from serving the people of our county who are poor and not covered by any health insurance.”
All of the GCHS Board members also thanked the Sheriff for coming and listening to the concerns of the community. The members said they hoped to hear some positive response from the bingo establishments and the Sheriff in the coming weeks.