Huntsville Pharmacist Criticizes $85 Million Medicaid Cuts

Unless Alabama lawmakers find a way to plug an $85 million hole in the state’s Medicaid funding, major cuts are on the way for residents who rely on the program.

Medicaid already makes up the largest portion of the Alabama state budget, but Medicaid officials say they need $100 million extra in funding to both maintain services and implement regional care organizations, a long term program designed to slow rising healthcare costs.

Right now, the General Fund budget set to take effect in October only provides a $15 million funding boost, and healthcare providers in Alabama are preparing for a major loss of revenues come fall.

“We have been funding Medicaid at the level we could possibly do over the last several years at the cost of everything else in state government,” said Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard.

According to Governor Robert Bentley and the Alabama Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar, the budget shortfall will likely result in cuts to adult prescription drugs, outpatient dialysis, hospice care, and reimbursement rates for physicians, who already receive far less for Medicaid patients. Any drop in reimbursement rates would most likely push more people into emergency rooms, where care is far more expensive.

Medicaid is designed so that it only provides coverage for the very poor, but the Montgomery Advertiser recently reported that, as of last June, 22% of Alabama residents or more than one million people qualified for Medicaid coverage.

In Huntsville, Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy owner Phillip Rigsby told WAFF he’s worried the Medicaid cuts will put him out of business altogether.

“You cut prescription medications for adults you got diabetics who will no longer get their medicines, you have people who have heart disease who will no longer get their medicines and people with chronic pain who will no longer get their medicine,” Rigsby said.

The American Diabetes Association says that one in eleven Americans has diabetes (that’s projected to rise to one in three by 2050), while 86 million are pre-diabetic. Each year the country spends $245 million on diabetes healthcare, just one of the chronic diseases common among Medicaid patients in Alabama.

Rigsby is just one of the many local healthcare providers who says the Medicaid cuts will have ripple effects beyond patients.

“If a clinic can’t take Medicaid and they’re a large Medicaid practice, they may find another state to go to. Well, that affects people who don’t have Medicaid,” said Rigsby.