Calls for Medicaid expansion in Alabama continue to gain momentum amid a growing coalition and new research detailing the benefits for Alabama citizens.
The coalition, called Cover Alabama, is a non-partisan alliance of over 100 organizations including consumer groups, businesses, faith groups and health care providers. Cover Alabama is also part of a campaign by Alabama Arise to expand Medicaid and close the coverage gap.
A report by Community Catalyst in collaboration with Cover Alabama last week found that Medicaid expansion would greatly benefit the working class in Alabama and also spur labor force participation.
The report found the following:
“Approximately 300,000 Alabamians are in the coverage gap – they have no affordable health coverage options because policymakers will not expand Medicaid. An additional 61,000 people in Alabama are at risk of ending up in the coverage gap because of the unwinding of COVID-19 pandemic-era Medicaid policies.
Because of centuries of systemic racism and classism, nearly half of those who would gain coverage if Alabama expanded Medicaid are people of color and nearly 60 percent live below the poverty line.
Over half a million workers in the coverage gap were employed in front-line or essential industries, and about 15 percent of adults had a disability.
Medicaid expansion is a proven solution to help people join and stay in the workforce. States that have expanded Medicaid have seen a greater increase in labor force participation among people with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty line than states that have not expanded.”
In response to the report, Debbie Smith, the Cover Alabama campaign director, said that health coverage should be accessible to all Alabamians.
“Every Alabamian should be able to get the medical care they need to survive and thrive,” Smith said. “Removing financial barriers to health care would make our workforce more robust and more productive. It’s time for Alabama policymakers to close the health coverage gap and invest in a healthier future for our state and for our people.”
The report also found that the most common industries that left workers in the coverage gap in Alabama included construction and food services.
Adam Keller, the political coordinator for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), created a resolution for his union to join Cover Alabama and support calling on elected officials to pass Medicaid expansion. Keller said he was inspired because of the stories of his co-workers who skipped medical appointments or fell into medical debt because they had no coverage despite being full-time, middle-class workers and the role labor should play in expanding Medicaid.
“It was a matter of impacting some of our members directly but [Medicaid expansion] would help all of our members indirectly, at the very least, and it’s the right thing to do for working people,” Keller said. “It’s a shame that hundreds of thousands of our neighbors would gain health insurance through this policy. And we have money sitting on the table waiting to be used. And we should do it because it’s the right thing to do. And we need people the highest offices to care about everyday working-class Alabamians. And I think the more of us who use our voice, the louder we are.”
Keller told APR he was able to get the North Alabama Labor Council to join Cover Alabama’s coalition. Keller is currently an organizer with Alabama Arise as well but had already organized the efforts to get the labor movement involved prior to taking on that role.
Although Medicaid appears to be beneficial to working-class people, often many working-class people vote or state their opposition to the policy.
Keller said he thinks those sentiments are due to “divide and conquer tactics” from wealthy elites to distract working-class people along racial, religious and gendered lines.
“The wealthy powerful elites in this state have had a lot of practice, and spent a lot of time and money and energy keeping us divided,” Keller said. “I think through the power of solidarity as people begin to look out for one another and struggle alongside each other to improve each other’s lives. To help out their own families and families of their neighbors, I think that can change folks.”
Keller also sent a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey regarding the passing of the resolution. Ivey would respond by sending a letter to Keller and stating that, “Medicaid expansion in Alabama will continue to be a serious consideration” of hers. However, she indicated that the cost of providing the care was the major concern preventing its adoption as state policy.
Emily Stewart, executive director of Community Catalyst, said: “Health care in America is far too expensive for far too many people, but it doesn’t have to be that way. … This report is further proof of what communities across the state already know: Medicaid works. It’s past time for politicians in Alabama to listen to their constituents and act.”