Gov. Robert Bentley has signed the Medicaid restructuring bill passed by the Alabama Legislature into law. Hopefully, this major piece of legislation will be good for current and future Alabama Medicaid patients. I have always believed that Medicaid should be more consumer-friendly and I am told that the new law is a step in that direction. A cost-effective health care system for vulnerable Alabamians is an absolute necessity. The proponents of the new law have promised that it will provide a better health care system for our state. The bill changes Alabama Medicaid’s administrative structure from a centralized statewide program to a network of regional care organizations (RCOs). The legislation is designed to give local providers, consumers and other stakeholders more control over health care delivery.
Under the new system, Alabama Arise and the Disabilities Leadership Coalition of Alabama will recommend consumer representatives to the governing board and citizens’ advisory committee of each RCO. Having these groups involved is a good thing. In a move designed to reduce costs by improving patient outcomes, new payment provisions in the bill are designed to reward health care providers for effective preventive and primary care and penalize them for more costly and delayed care. The administration of the program will be at the regional level, which in theory is good and hopefully it will work.
All who follow the affairs of state government in Alabama know our current Medicaid program has been under constant attack. Folks on Medicaid and the health care providers have suffered as a result of these “politically motivated” attacks on the program. Unfortunately, none of the politicians leveling the attacks offered anything constructive. The attempt to come up with something better came from Gov. Robert Bentley. Now it’s incumbent upon those in charge of the Alabama Medicaid Agency to make the new law work. I have tremendous respect for and confidence in Dr. Don Williamson, a highly capable man, who is currently in charge of Medicaid. But he has his hands full in his real job running the state health department. Hopefully, he can handle each job well.
Common sense tells me that the best way to control rising health care costs is to detect and catch problems early and keep folks healthy. While I still believe expanding the Medicaid program under the national healthcare law is needed, that doesn’t appear to even be a possibility. So I am hopeful that the new law in Alabama will make things better. If it does work well, a major breakthrough in health care in Alabama will have been accomplished. Hopefully, doctors will continue to take and treat Medicaid patients under this new system. As I understand the new law, payments will be made to the RCOs, which will then take care of paying all of the heath care providers, including doctors. In theory, this sounds good, but will it work? We shall see.
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