MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The defeat of a jobs bill in the U.S. Senate last week created an almost $200-million hole in the Alabama Medicaid budget, raising the prospect that medical services for the state’s poor may be curtailed in 2011.
The $1.6-billion General Fund budget passed by the state Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Bob Riley anticipated receiving $197 million for Medicaid from the jobs bill. But it was rejected by the Senate, with Alabama’s Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby voting against it.
The chairman of the Senate General Fund budget committee, Democratic Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville, said yesterday the lost funding could force Medicaid to cut programs such as medical care for children or nursing home beds for the elderly.
“I hope our senators look at how devastating it would be to our senior citizens and children not to get this funding,” said Bedford.
The communications director for Sessions, Stephen Boyd, said the senator voted against the legislation because it didn’t include a way to cover the cost.
“Sen. Sessions has voted for similar measures in the past when they were responsibly paid for, but he firmly believes that Congress cannot continue piling on more and more to our national debt, which is at record levels,” Boyd said.
Bedford said Riley could be forced to call a special session of the Legislature to fill the funding gap.
But Riley’s communications director, Jeff Emerson, said it was too early to predict the need for a special session or to cut Medicaid services. He said the $197 million was in the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and that Congress earlier had approved an extension for Medicaid stimulus funding until Dec. 31, which means the state will not feel the effects of last week’s vote until the end of the year.
“There’s certainly no reason for the state to hit the panic button at this time,” Emerson said.
Alabama Medicaid officials declined to comment and referred questions to Emerson.
He said Alabama is one of about 30 states that included anticipated revenue from the bill in their budgets.
“We remain confident Congress will come up with a compromise,” Emerson said.
Democratic state Rep. John Knight of Montgomery, chairman of the House General Fund budget committee, said he would be more concerned if Alabama was the only state that had budgeted the federal funding, but with so many other states also losing funding he felt Congress would find a solution.