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Medicaid matters. It plays an essential role in the daily lives of thousands of Alabama’s citizens. It matters to the expectant mom whose husband was just laid off from his job. It matters to the elde

Alabama’s Medicaid program is vital to the economic health and future of our state as well as the health and well-being of thousands of Alabamians.

Whether or not you are covered by Medicaid, the truth is, it matters to everyone.

The health care that Medicaid dollars buy translates into children who arrive at school ready to learn, parents who don’t miss work because their children are sick and elderly and disabled citizens who live longer, more independent lives.

Most of us assume and ultimately take for granted, that we will have access to the care we need, when we need it. For thousands of Alabama families, however, there is no money and no health insurance to cover health care costs. When the medicine your child needs costs a week’s take home pay, what do you do? Do you buy medicine or pay the rent? Do you buy gas for the car so you can go to work or take your asthmatic child to the doctor for that nagging nighttime cough?

It was exactly that type of predicament that government leaders hoped to prevent when they created Medicaid nearly 40 years ago. However, the medical system today barely resembles what we had in the 1960s. Outpatient surgeries, not hospital stays, are the norm while thousands of new tests, new drugs, and new technology are available –with a price tag to match.

When I talk about Medicaid, I find that many people still think of it as welfare. What most people don’t realize is that for a growing number of working Alabamians, Medicaid is the only health coverage they can get — or afford.

In fact, nearly half of all children on Medicaid in Alabama are from working families.

Medicaid is a state-federal program that serves as a major health and long-term care payer, particularly for children and nursing home residents. This translates into a program that funds health care for over 800,000 people in Alabama.

For example, Medicaid pays for the delivery of nearly half of all babies born in Alabama (46 percent in FY ’02) and for the health coverage of 37 percent (FY ’02) of all children under age 19. About one in five Alabama residents are Medicaid-eligible, while 75 percent of nursing home patients depend on Medicaid to cover the cost of their care. If federal eligibility requirements remain unchanged, the agency projects that in five years, 25 percent of our Alabama residents will qualify for Medicaid.

So, it is no surprise then that Medicaid is one of the biggest items in the General Fund Budget, in spite of the fact that Alabama operates an efficient, but “bare-bones” program. The good news is that for every dollar Alabama provides, the federal government matches it with three dollars. And for every dollar spent by the Alabama Medicaid Agency, .97 cents goes to pay for actual benefits – such as medicine, doctor visits or nursing home care. It is a record that few other states can match.

Medicaid matters, and as your elected Representative, I can assure you that it matters to me.

As this year’s regular legislative session draws to a close, I am pleased to report that both the House and the Senate have committed to funding Medicaid.

Thomas Jackson