Editorial - John Archibald

The Birmingham News, Nov. 24, 2013

Three phrases you'll never hear from the mouth of Gov. Dr. Robert Bentley:

1. Good job, Obama!

2. Let's take a closer look at Alabama Power.

3. We're going to pass on those 30,000 jobs.

One of those things, as they say, is not like the other.

While we'll never hear the good doctor admit turning down any jobs, jobs, jobs, it is exactly what he'll be doing by failing to allow expansion of Medicaid in Alabama.

Most have by now seen a report by professors in the University of Alabama business school that found moderate Medicaid expansion would lead to 30,700 jobs for the state, bringing $1.3 billion in earnings.
Those are numbers politicians in Alabama -- Dems and Republican alike – would on most days wet themselves to claim.

It is why Alabama paid more than a quarter billion dollars -- $168,000 for every plant job – to bring Mercedes to the state.

It is why Alabama came up with another $252.8 million for Hyundai, $158.5 million for Airbus and $158 million for Honda.

State and local governments paid about $822 million in incentives to those outfits to bring 6,000 company jobs. And Alabama – most people and politicians alike – looked at the results and the spinoffs and said ... that was good.

We paid a price. We got a return. We called it an investment.

But now, because of politics and petulance, the payoff of jobs, jobs, jobs is not worth the cost. Even though a UAB study predicts Medicaid expansion would pump $20 billion into the economy between now and 2020, enough to cover the program costs. Even though Alabama is paying for the program anyway. It is not opting out of paying the taxes, you know. It is opting out of the return.
Even though a RAND study found "it's in the best economic interests of states to expand Medicaid."

And even though failing to do so will deny help to 300,000 Alabamians, most of whom will not have coverage otherwise. I'm not talking about premium coverage. Not taj ma-medical. But it is enough to keep a ton of people from slipping through the cracks, gumming up the health system works and creating additional costs for hospitals and consumers and the state.

It makes economic sense. And it makes human sense. Which is why none of this makes sense.

Because this is not the Alabama I know.

When I think of this state – even with the racial strife and rebelliousness of its history – I think of compassion, and heroism.

I think of a guy named Glenn Croom, who jumped from his car and ran into a burning house in Wylam to pull three people to safety a few years ago. I think of a guy who stopped to help pull five kids from a burning car near the Birmingham Farmer's Market. I think of writing stories of needy families and feeling the chills as good people – invariably -- called to offer help in whatever way they could.

That's what I don't understand about Bentley's recalcitrance, about the state's refusal to expand Medicaid.

I know that when Alabamians see a child at risk, they run to help. I know too that when Alabama sees the potential for jobs, it will make the investment needed to lure them.
Just not ... now.

Bentley has argued that Medicaid is flawed and unsustainable, that his goal is to resist implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
But he is putting politics above his people.

What the governor is really saying is that Alabama will pass on 30,000 jobs. What the doctor is really saying is that those who need help the most in this state will not get it.
Not, at least, on his rounds.

John Archibald's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in The Birmingham News, and on al.com. Email: jarchibald@al.com

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