Guest opinion: Why expanding Medicaid in Alabama is the right and rational Choice

By Allison Berkowitz

Alabama Medicaid offices in Montgomery, Alabama. Sarah Swetlik

This is a guest opinion

As a social worker, witnessing the hardships faced by those with painful health issues – and without access to care – is deeply disheartening. Expanding Medicaid in Alabama is not only a compassionate way to address this issue but is also a fiscally responsible choice. Medicaid expansion would help bolster our economy, keep rural hospitals open, and offer valuable benefits to all Alabamians.

The primary mission of the social work profession centers on enhancing human well-being, so let’s explore the profound potential of Medicaid expansion to impact 300,000 Alabamians.

First, Alabama has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country. This is a complex issue, but most of these tragic deaths are preventable and prenatal care plays a crucial role in that prevention. States that expanded Medicaid saw significant reductions in maternal mortality. In Alabama, that would mean more mamas getting to watch their children grow, if only they can get the care they need.

Mental health remains another persistent issue throughout our state. In 2021, 57% of Alabamians with a mental illness went untreated. While all Alabamians deserve access to trained mental health professionals, providing essential mental health care also creates broad economic value.

Here in Florence, our police department receives an average of 32 mental health crisis calls every month. Cases requiring extensive medical stabilization force officers to wait for the individual’s admission to a hospital, a process ranging from eight to an unimaginable 36 hours, significantly burdening police department resources. In states that have expanded Medicaid, people more proactively seek out and receive needed mental health medications and ongoing mental health care. These factors could alleviate strain on police department resources.

Many people have concerns about associated costs; however, Medicaid expansion actually offers Alabama substantial economic benefits. Research from states with expansion show it contributed to more affordable health care statewide, reduced risks of catastrophic medical costs, and fewer work-inability cases due to disability.

Expansion could also keep hospitals open throughout the state which are currently at risk of closure. Importantly, expansion would create a lot of jobs! Medicaid expansion is anticipated to generate about 20,000 new jobs annually in Alabama for six years post-implementation, positively influencing the state’s economy and businesses. This projection aligns with the experiences of other states, such as Louisiana and Colorado, which added 19,000 and 31,000 jobs, respectively, after expansion.

Alabamians value self-sufficiency, but we also believe in loving our neighbors as ourselves. The continued delay of expanding Medicaid hurts our neighbors and ourselves, and has problematic systemic issues, like limited hospital access and preventable tragedies. I believe these outcomes are incompatible with what most Alabamians believe in their hearts.

Expanding Medicaid in Alabama transcends healthcare: it embodies a compassionate and fiscally responsible path, marking an investment in citizen well-being and Alabama’s future prosperity. In spite of overwhelming evidence of its benefits for our people and state, Alabama remains one of only 10 states yet to adopt expansion. With 70% of Alabamians supporting it, the time for Medicaid expansion in Alabama is now. Let’s make it happen.