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Bentley spokesperson refuses to say Gov. won’t expand Medicaid ‘under any scenario’

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley

Most of the action during Alabama’s 2014 election cycle is taking place in Republican legislative primaries. With the exception of a highly competitive race for Place 2 on the Public Service Commission, Alabama’s statewide elected officials are either running unopposed, facing weak primary opposition, or even weaker Democrats.

At the top of the ballot, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley falls into both of the latter categories. His primary challenger has raised less money than some people walk around with in their wallet, and his Democratic opponent, Parker Griffith, is a cursing party-switcher who says the Tea Party is ‘worse than you think.’

Griffith is running on the familiar Democratic platform of legalizing the lottery, but has also added the national Democratic talking point of expanding Medicaid as a plank in his platform.

Bentley, on the other hand, has endured intense criticism from various special interest groups, editorial writers and policy makers for his refusal to expand the costly program. It’s also been the rumor du jour among insiders that the governor would bide his time, get re-elected, then expand Medicaid to placate some of his advisers and Montgomery lobbyists.

He’s kept mostly quiet as his critics piled on, but he unloaded during the State of the State:

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley receives a standing ovation before delivering the 2014 State of the State Address.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley receives a standing ovation before delivering the 2014 State of the State Address.

The Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare and Medicaid expansion is taking our nation deeper into the abyss of debt, and threatens to dismantle what I believe is one of the most trusted relationships, that of doctors and their patient.

Essential to Obamacare is Medicaid expansion – a federal government dependency program for the uninsured, which is administered by states. Since 1980, Medicaid spending has increased nationally by over 1,500-percent.

Here in Alabama, Medicaid takes up 35% of our General Fund.

Under Obamacare, Medicaid would grow even larger… Here in Alabama alone, an estimated 300,000 more people would be added to the Medicaid role, to a system that by our own admission is absolutely broken and flawed.

The federal government has said they will give us money to expand. But how can we believe the federal government will keep its word? The anything but Affordable Care Act has done nothing to gain our trust.

First, they told us we could keep our doctor – that turned out not to be true. Next, they told us we could keep our policy – that’s not true. Then they told us our premiums would not go up – nothing could be further from the truth. Now they are telling us we’ll get free money to expand Medicaid.

Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is free. The money the federal government is spending with wild abandon is not federal dollars – those are your dollars, your hard-earned tax dollars. There is no difference between federal money and your money.

Our great nation is 17.2 trillion dollars in debt and it increases by 2-billion dollars every single day.

That is why I cannot expand Medicaid in Alabama. We will not bring hundreds of thousands into a system that is broken and buckling.

That is some pretty strong language that for several months put to bed any rumors that the governor was leaving himself wiggle room to expand Medicaid after getting re-elected.

But the rumor mill in Montgomery and among some executives in Alabama’s healthcare industry has cranked back up recently. And now Griffith is seeking to use it to his campaign’s advantage, alleging that Bentley is “quietly promising” to expand the program.

“Either Governor Bentley has been lying about his strict opposition to Medicaid expansion or he is allowing his political associates and government insiders to lie to health care professionals all across Alabama,” Griffith said in a statement. “It can’t be a coincidence that I have had numerous people tell me that they have been assured that Governor Bentley will expand Medicaid after the election.”

Yellowhammer reached out to Bentley campaign spokesperson Rebekah Mason and asked her if she would put the speculation to rest.

“Medicaid is still draining the state budget. It’s a huge expense for taxpayers. The reform measures we wanted were just initiated in 2013 and were put in place because Medicaid is weighing down the state. As far as adding more people to the rolls, no, we’re not going to do that,” Mason said. “There is no intention to add more people to the Medicaid system. We’ve just started the reform process. There’s no way the governor is going to consider expanding Medicaid within the ObamaCare structure. He’s philosophically opposed to ObamaCare, and Medicaid as it is currently constituted comes in under ObamaCare.”

Rebekah Mason, spokesperson for Gov. Robert Bentley's re-election campaign
Rebekah Mason, spokesperson for Gov. Robert Bentley’s re-election campaign

Yellowhammer responded by pointing out that by qualifying their statements with “under ObamaCare” or under the current “structure” leaves them a crack in the window. After winning re-election, the governor could conceivably come back and say their reform measures worked and made Medicaid expansion possible.

“There were no windows left open in the governor’s State of the State address on January 14, and nothing has changed since then,” Mason said in reply. “That is exactly where we are today. His philosophy has not changed. He has not and is not changing his mind on expanding Medicaid.”

“Do we have problems with healthcare in Alabama? Yes,” she continued. “Do we have children and elderly people in Alabama — the most vulnerable among us — who need help? Yes. How we are going to fix that is being studied, but it certainly isn’t ObamaCare or putting more people on the government’s healthcare rolls.”

Yellowhammer asked, then, if the headline “Bentley spokesperson says Gov. will not, under any scenario, expand Medicaid if given a second term” would be accurate.

“The quotes I gave you are the definitive ‘no’ you’re looking for,” Mason replied.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims