Ala. governor promises veto of budget if Medicaid cut

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said that he will veto the state's General Fund budget if lawmakers do not find an additional $200 million for Medicaid.

Bentley and State Health Officer Don Williamson said at a news conference Tuesday that there would be dire effects if the budget for non-education state services is adopted as it passed the House, with only $400 million for Medicaid. Williamson said at least $602 million is needed to fund the program and to continue many vital services.

Williamson said without proper funding, the state might lose federal funds for Medicaid. He said programs like dialysis and medicine for adults might be eliminated and hospitals and other facilities might not be able to stay open. Bentley said lawmakers should transfer $200 million from an education savings account to the General Fund.

But the chairmen of the House committees who write both the General Fund and education budgets said that idea would not work.

Republican Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery, chairman of the education budget committee said there is not enough money in the education account.

Republican Sen. Trip Pittman of Daphne, chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee, said he is wary of the governor's plan.

"Support for the integrity of the education budget is important," Pittman said.

Democratic Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville, a member of the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund committee, said, "I agree with the governor that $400 million won't work for Alabama Medicaid." But he said there may be a way to get the money from a state economic development fund and a state savings account called the Alabama Trust Fund.

Two Democra tic state representatives, Patricia 'Todd of Birmingham and Joe Hubbard of Montgomery have introduced bills to levy a cigarette tax to help fund Medicaid. Bentley said Tuesday that at this time he does not favor raising taxes. He said he promised not to raise taxes when running for governor.

Hubbard said his proposal for a dollar-a-pack cigarette tax is the best option.

"The governor's proposal asks us to pick between children in the classroom and children in the emergency room," Hubbard said.

Several speakers at Bentley's news conference said losing Medicaid funding would more than just Medicaid patients.

"If we don't have Medicaid patients we won't be able to provide care for private care patients," said Frank Brown, president of USA Health Care in Cullman and president of the Alabama Nursing Home Association.



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