The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

8 months ago

Telemedicine advances & broadband are keys to Alabamians’ long-term health

(Curtis Cannon/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

COVID-19 cases have spiked across Alabama, hitting our state’s low-income and African American counties with a vengeance. Perry County now has per-capita infection rates exceeding peak levels in New York City, while Lowndes County – with its long, storied history of civil rights’ struggles – has also suffered enormously.

Throughout the country, telemedicine grew astronomically during the pandemic; patients and practitioners have turned to virtual video “visits” to avoid the risks of face-to-face discussions. But those without home computers are effectively shut out of these services.

Both our values and our concern for public health demand we close this divide. Closing the digital divide should be part of the long-overdue national reckoning on social justice.

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Meeting this challenge is going to take cooperation and creativity, not finger-pointing and political posturing. Elected officials need to get skin in the game if we are going to bring broadband to those who need it for critical services such as telehealth.

First, we need to get broadband infrastructure into rural communities. Nationwide, 95% of all communities are wired for broadband. But big infrastructure gaps still exist across swaths of rural America, where longer distances and fewer potential customers make network infrastructure a lot more expensive to build. Twenty-seven percent of rural Alabamans currently don’t have fixed broadband deployed in their neighborhoods.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will soon start distributing $20 billion in new funding for rural broadband projects, which is a good start. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the majority whip and highest-ranking African American in Congress, is leading a bipartisan effort in both Houses to speed up that FCC program, while getting rid of outdated eligibility restrictions that limit competition, steer buildout projects to favored contractors, and keep many capable providers on the sidelines.

More competition and better oversight should help avoid the poor performance seen in earlier federal broadband programs, when too many dollars were spent non-competitively and went to areas that already had broadband infrastructure rather than unserved rural communities with the greatest needs.

Second, we need to get more people online in the communities where high-speed service is already available. Twenty-seven percent of Americans still don’t subscribe to home broadband service even though broadband providers have stepped up with heavily discounted or even free service for low-income customers. In federal surveys, 60% of non-subscribers say they just don’t have any need or interest in-home broadband.

It will take a sustained, united effort to change these misguided views on the importance of broadband. Community groups, health advocates, local governments, and tech and broadband companies all need to join together in a public-private partnership to accomplish universal digital literacy by a date certain.

We need to do a much better job evangelizing broadband connectivity to those who don’t think the internet is important to them. Broadband opens lots of doors – educational, economic, health care and much more. Telemedicine can literally save lives, and broadband can vastly expand the quality of life in many other ways. We need to tell this story more compellingly to get everyone signed up.

Third, we need to permanently dismantle obsolete public policies that discriminate against telemedicine. When the pandemic hit, federal agencies quickly (if belatedly) relaxed restrictions on telemedicine and expanded reimbursements for telehealth services under Medicare and other federal health programs. Alabama followed suit with new, temporary licensing rules and Medicaid reimbursements. Instead of letting these reforms expire when conditions return to “normal,” federal and state governments should make these temporary policies permanent.

Healthcare providers across Alabama recognize the potential for remote, broadband-connected telemedicine services to revolutionize health care delivery and close access gaps.

I teamed with several local doctors to start the Telemedicine Hub of Alabama – an online service through which patients can access low-cost primary care, mental health care, and pharmacy services. Remote services like these are particularly critical to reach patients in areas impacted by hospital closures; 17 hospitals across Alabama have closed in the last decade.

We need public policies and public-private partnerships that encourage innovation and investment. And we need better rural broadband infrastructure and higher broadband adoption rates to ensure every Alabamian can access telemedicine apps and services.

This will take an investment of time, resources, and leadership – but we can crack this code if all the stakeholders work together. The long-term health of Alabamians depends on it.

Curtis Cannon is Managing Partner of Axis Recovery, a Birmingham based strategic healthcare consultancy firm

8 months ago

Alabama’s small business community needs Congress’ support

(Axis Recovery/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Affordable health care has long been a cause of concern for small business across our country with the cost of coverage has consistently ranked at the top of small business owners’ concerns. And now, amid a global health crisis, health coverage is more important than ever. As someone with years of experience working in the healthcare industry and alongside businesses, I have seen firsthand how the small business community faces unique challenges when it comes to employer-sponsored benefits.

There is no doubt that each employer wants to give employees the best benefits possible. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes small businesses competitive, attracting a more skilled workforce and helping to keep employees healthy. However, the large majority of small business owners run on extremely small margins, and as health care costs continue to rise, it is even more difficult to provide employees with quality health care coverage.

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Alabama is known for our friendly small business community, inviting many small employers to plant their roots in the Yellowhammer State. This is why we’re proud to have over 380,000 small businesses that employ over 765,000 of our state’s residents. Small businesses are, and always have been, the backbone of our economy. Alabama laws historically promote competition and small business growth but despite this, we still need our federal lawmakers to support us, especially at a time when businesses are struggling.

Today, with the pandemic continuing to spread across our state, small business owners are struggling to stay in business, and they are bracing for the full financial impacts of COVID-19. It is a devastating situation to be in and our small business community cannot survive on its own.

Fortunately, we have very dedicated small business champions in Washington, D.C. who have been working tirelessly to ensure any federal COVID-19 relief includes small businesses.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Senator Doug Jones and Congresswoman Terri Sewell supported bipartisan legislation that in 2019 repealed an Obamacare tax known as the Health Insurance Tax (HIT). This erroneous tax increased the price of health insurance for small business owners. Now we need them to further continue that work and work to implement policies that will continue to lower the cost of health care for small business owners, their employees, and their families, especially at a time when having health care is so crucial. A healthy workforce that is ready, and able, to get back to work is vital to our state, and country’s economic recovery.

Small business owners want to continue to provide health care for their employees, but they need Congress’ help to do so. I ask that our elected officials continue to come together to support Alabama’s small business community, especially when it comes to lowering health care costs and making health care more affordable — both as we continue to overcome COVID-19 and long beyond.

Curtis Cannon is a Managing Partner at Axis Recovery and has over 15 years of experience working with health insurance companies, brokers and consulting firms.

1 year ago

When it comes to health care, one-size-fits-all benefits none

(C. Cannon/Contributed)

Alabamans face enough challenges when it comes to accessing high-quality, comprehensive health care — particularly in our many rural communities where families are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured. While the promise of Medicare for All or a public option may sound alluring, these kinds of government-controlled health care insurance systems would likely only make it that much harder for patients in need to access and afford the vital care they need.

According to a recent study released by FTI Consulting, introducing a public option to “compete” on the ACA’s health care exchanges would eventually crowd out the individual insurance marketplace and force millions of Americans off their private insurance. In fact, the study found that after the introduction of the public option “20 percent of state marketplaces would no longer offer a single private insurance option by 2028.” By 2050, that figure would grow to nearly 70%, “representing nearly a quarter of marketplace enrollees.”

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The study also found that within the first year following the introduction of a public option, “over 130,000 Americans enrolled in ACA coverage would be forced off of their existing health care plan.” Over a decade, that figure would swell to up to 2 million, and by the end of that decade, over 7 million Americans would no longer have access to private health insurance. Instead of giving patients more options, the study found that the public option would reduce choices and force Americans into a one-size-fits-all government health insurance system.

As someone who has worked in the health care insurance industry for 16 years, I can attest to the fact that one-size-fits-all rarely works when it comes to health care coverage. That is part of the reason that policymakers should be working to strengthen and protect the current blend of private coverage, employer-sponsored plans, and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid that currently provide so much flexibility for patients.

Instead of supporting this level of choice and flexibility, a public option or Medicare for All system would only lead to higher costs for hardworking American families, less access for and a lower quality of care, and less control over the doctors and treatments that would be covered for patients in need. Patients would end up spending more for poorer health care outcomes as private and employer-sponsored premiums rise because the public option or Medicare for All system would slash payments to doctors, forcing providers to shift those costs to those in the private market. This is no way to solve America’s health care woes.

Instead, we need to consider innovative ways to bring care directly to the underserved populations and rural areas while lowering health care costs in Alabama and across the country. Services such as telemedicine and direct primary care (DPC) allow more Alabamians to get access to the primary care services they need even if they lack existing insurance coverage. Since much of the state’s rural areas do not have access to adequate internet, Alabama must improve broadband access in these areas to even offer services like telemedicine. By offering mobile health services, patients are able to access healthcare services at a lower cost than face-to-face consultations.

I have said it before and will say it again—our health care system may not be a perfect one, but with the passage the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is one in which roughly 290 million Americans have access to health care coverage, including essential benefits. The path forward should not be to scrap all the progress we have made, but to continue to build upon, improve and strengthen the ACA through practical reforms that will help lower costs and expand coverage to more Americans who need it.

Ultimately, it is through these small, but practical policy improvements — like continuing to expand Medicaid in the states that have yet to do so, increasing federal subsidies to help working-class Americans not covered by their employers afford coverage, reprioritizing education around enrollment periods and offering innovative ways to bring telemedicine to rural and underserved areas — that we can strengthen our health care system. That’s what legislators should be focusing on instead of pushing for absolute governmental control over our health care insurance system.

Curtis Cannon is a board member and speaker for Employee Benefit Advisors and Managing Partner of Axis Recovery, a healthcare consulting firm in Alabama.

2 years ago

Real-world solutions to expand coverage, lower costs in health care

(C. Cannon/Contributed)

While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not perfect, it has helped create a system in which more Americans have access to comprehensive health care coverage than ever before. The next steps from a policy standpoint should be to continue improving upon the ACA in order to expand coverage while bringing down costs, particularly for patients who already face higher hurdles to getting the care they need —including working families that are uninsured or underinsured.

That is what makes recent discussions regarding an array of policy proposals — including single-payer, the public option, Medicare for All, or Medicare “buy-in” — so disconcerting. As someone who works with local, rural physicians to connect these patients with the health care services and treatments they need, I fear any one of these proposals would take us down a road to government-controlled health care that could undermine all the progress we are making to provide quality care for those who need it most.

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In my current role, I am specifically focused on supporting initiatives that provide affordable, high-quality health care to working families and local businesses. Securing, protecting, and improving employer-sponsored health insurance coverage is a critical part of that mission. Supporting a move toward a more government-centric model of health care insurance runs counter to that effort and would have a tremendous, negative impact not only on employee-sponsored plans, but on patients and health care facilities, particularly in rural parts of Alabama and the rest of the country.

The fact is, a government-run health care insurance system would eventually eliminate any private or employer-base plans currently on the market. Even just introducing a public option would make it nearly impossible for private and employer-sponsored plans to compete. How could they when their “competitor” has the full financial backing of the federal government without any of the traditional overhead costs of private insurance companies? Eventually, only the government option would remain, and fewer options have never yielded lower costs or increased quality for consumers in any sector.

Moreover, a government-run health care insurance system could potentially be detrimental for patient access to care, quality, and affordability—especially for Alabamans and all Americans living in rural communities. A recent study found that offering a government insurance program like the public option, which would reimburse hospitals and other providers at Medicare levels, could put up to 55% of America’s rural hospitals “at high risk of closure.”

That represents more than 1,000 rural hospitals in 46 states that provide upwards of 420,000 much-needed, highly skilled jobs. Even for those facilities that are not placed at such high risks of closure, a public option could “negatively impact access to and quality of care” by forcing hospitals to potentially eliminate services or reduce staff, the study found.

Moreover, the economic toll that threatening America’s rural hospitals would have on rural Alabama is reason enough to avoid any government-run health care scheme. For many rural communities, here in Alabama and across the country, local hospitals are often the largest source of jobs and economic stimulus around. Undermining those contributions would threaten the strength of local economies nationwide.

When it comes to government-controlled health care, the risks are simply not worth the rewards. Rather than chasing unrealistic fantasies of uprooting and eliminating the ACA in favor of Medicare for All, a public option, or single-payer, policymakers and candidates running for president should focus on ways we can make practical improvements to our health care system. Ultimately, that is how we will be able to bring costs down while ensuring all Americans have access to quality, affordable and comprehensive health care coverage.

Curtis Cannon is a board member and speaker for Employee Benefit Advisors and managing partner of Axis Recovery, a healthcare consulting firm in Alabama.