County urges Medicaid sign-ups

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Two of the main topics discussed at Tuesday’s Marengo County Commission meeting dealt with two very different types of opportunities.

The first opportunity was signing up for the new Medicaid plan.

Donnie Randolph, a representative of the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission, said they have already scheduled a meeting to allow people to sign up.

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“Right now we are in the process of trying to get everybody that is on Medicare signed up for Medicare part D,” Randolph said. “We are going to be in this area on April 20 at the Theo Ratliff Activity Center here in Demopolis. We are going to have the state health insurance program there to help us.”

People in isolated areas were not signing up, Randolph said, and they needed to do something to get them on board. If they did not sign up by May 15, she said, they could be penalized 1 percent each month.

Also, Randolph said, they were targeting people who were between 55 and 64, do not have Medicare and do not have a way to pay for their medicine.

“It is going to be like a tie-in for the two groups,” Randolph said. “The health insurance company will be there to see this is done correctly so we will be able to work with just about anybody that comes.”

Commissioner Calvin Martin expressed concerns about getting rural citizens to the sign-up. Randolph said they hoped to work with West Alabama Public Transportation if possible, to get people bused in from areas such as Thomaston and smaller areas. For now, they were still working on a plan to get people to the signup.

Because of confusion from the plan, Commissioner Freddie Armstead said, the sign-up should be very helpful.

“I think this is great because there are a lot of people out there who really don’t understand this,” Armstead said. “This is a very good program.”

The second opportunity mentioned at the meeting was a business venture that was a part of the new Gulf Opportunity Zone Act.

Farley Poellnitz was at the meeting speaking on behalf of the group, which plans to construct a 42-unit hotel on U.S. Highway 80 through the port authority. Because the commission is the governmental entity that created the port authority, Poellnitz explained their intentions to the commission.

In no way, Poellnitz said, would the county be held responsible for their project.

“The county commission nor the port authority is liable for this,” Poellnitz said. “If they defaulted on the bonds, you are not in any way responsible for that. They have to get their own financing and they have to secure their own credit. The county is not liable for this debt, nor is the port authority.”

Many people have come to the commission with questions of whether projects through GOZA are tax-exempt. County Attorney Woody Dinning said this was not the case.

“I think one of the misconceptions here is that people who buy the bonds don’t have to pay taxes,” Dinning said. “This has nothing to do with property tax and nothing to do with sales tax. This is just like any other commercial endeavor.”

Potential business owners, Dinning said, still had to pay taxes they just get better interest rates through GOZA bond issues.

For the state of Alabama, $2.1 billion is available. The group represented by Poellnitz was asking for $2.6 million.

Commissioner Max Joiner said he wanted to make it clear these opportunities were available to everyone. GOZA, Joiner said, was not just the government throwing out money from a specific fund.

“People need to understand we aren’t making $2.6 million available to them out of a pot of government money,” Joiner said.

To make these projects a reality, he said, potential business owners still must find funding from banks to make the project work.

All projects are also subject to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley approving them as applicable under GOZA.