Governor’s task force recommends expanding Medicaid

A task force appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley today recommended that the governor and the Legislature find a way to provide health insurance for Alabamians without coverage.

The Alabama Health Care Improvement Task Force approved a recommendation that said the biggest obstacle in improving health is the “coverage gap that makes health insurance inaccessible to hundreds of thousands of Alabamians.”


The majority of that group are working people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but don’t have private insurance, according to the Task Force statement.

It said expansion could provide coverage to about 290,000 Alabamians, including 185,000 who are working.

The recommendation does not specifically call for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. But a two-page statement attached to the recommendation describes benefits that would come with expansion.

The Task Force recommended that the governor and the Legislature “move forward at the earliest opportunity to close Alabama’s health coverage gap with an Alabama-driven solution.”

The task force, which has more than 30 members, approved the recommendation on a voice vote with no opposition.

For several years, Bentley has been an opponent of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

In the last year, the governor has said his administration might pursue a way to cover more people through an Alabama-specific plan. He has sounded increasingly more open to the idea in recent weeks.

Jennifer Ardis, spokeswoman for the governor, indicated the governor has not taken a position on today’s recommendation by the task force.

“The governor appreciates the hard work of the task force, which is made up of health care experts across Alabama,” Ardis said. “He looks forward to working with the Legislature to review the recommendations.”

Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, a task force member, said Medicaid expansion is critical for rural areas like his east Alabama district.

But Dial told his fellow task force members that expansion will come with a price tag. States will have to begin paying 5 percent of the cost of expanded coverage in 2018 and 10 percent in 2020.

Dial said it’s realistic to expect Alabama to need an additional $400 million to $700 million over several years.

“Somebody is going to have to pay some more taxes,” Dial said.

Dial urged members of the task force to speak one-on-one with legislators in their districts to build support for expansion and the funds needed to pay for it.

“We can’t sell it from Montgomery,” Dial said.

The task force discussed but did not vote on a proposal to recommend to the Legislature a cigarette tax increase of 75 cents a pack to help pay for expansion.

Lawmakers raised the cigarette tax 25 cents a pack this year to help cover the General Fund appropriation for Medicaid. Dial said passing that bill was “like pulling teeth.”

There was some disagreement about how much new funding would be needed.

The task force’s two-page statement attached to the recommendation, which task force members called the “white paper,” said that expansion could be a net gain for the state budget, based on what’s happened in other states.

That’s partly because some mental health services, public health services, senior services and others that are now provided with state dollars would be mostly paid for with federal dollars after expansion, according to the paper.

The paper cited a 2015 policy brief by the UAB School of Public Health that said Medicaid expansion would produce new revenues to health care providers that would result in $1.2 billion per year in new income.

That would generate tax revenues that could offset most or all of the state’s share of the cost, the paper said.

Dr. John Waits, a family practice physician in Centreville and a task force member, said Medicaid expansion would not only help the uninsured but would improve the economy by creating jobs and providing for a healthier workforce.

“It keeps hospitals open,” Waits said. “It keeps doctors able to go to underserved areas.”

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Rural Health Week in Alabama

Governor Robert Bentley has proclaimed the week of November 16 through 20 as “Rural Health Week” in

Alabama. This recognition is to make Alabamians more aware of the vital importance of our rural areas

and the serious struggle that these areas have in getting and keeping adequate health care.

Marshall South

Many people make the mistake of thinking that since our rural areas have smaller populations, they are not

as important as more urban areas with larger numbers of people. This is far from the truth. Rural areas are

the providers of the vast majority of materials, resources, and necessities, such as food, that everyone must

have in order to survive. Having healthy and vibrant rural areas is important to everyone.


There is a very strong relationship between good health care and economic opportunity. An area without

good health care is not very competitive with other areas for economic opportunity and growth. Perhaps

the greatest evidence of this is the fact that 24 rural Alabama counties have smaller populations today than

they had over 100 years ago in 1910. In addition, 33 Alabama counties, all rural, are projected to have less

population in 2040 than they had in 2010. Too many young residents of rural areas are being forced to go

elsewhere to develop careers following college or technical training.

Rural health care does not only provide service for rural residents. We never know when we or someone

that we care very much for will be in a rural area and suddenly be in need of health care. The presence of

adequate local health care throughout Alabama provides faster access to care that can be of vital


Additional indicators of the serious need for adequate rural health care include the following:

Alabama has the 3rd highest death rate among all 50 states and the rate is 11 percent higher for our rural

residents than urban Alabamians.

Life expectancy is three years less for Alabamians than for the nation – 3 ½ years less for rural Alabamians.

In 1980, 45 of the 54 rural counties in Alabama had hospitals that provided obstetrical service. Today only

17 of these 54 counties have such service available and this service is scheduled to be lost in Chambers

County at the end of this year. The loss of hospitals that deliver babies is greater in the 12 counties

comprising the Black Belt Region. In 1980, 10 of these 12 counties had hospitals providing obstetrical

service. Today only one county (Dallas) has this service available.

Only two rural counties (Coffee and Pike) are recognized by the federal government as providing the

minimal primary care service that is needed.

None of the 54 rural counties provide minimal dental service for low-income (Medicaid) patients.

None of the 54 rural counties provide minimal mental health service.

Thirteen rural Alabama counties do not have a dialysis clinic in the county.

The motor vehicle accident death rate for rural Alabamians is nearly 56 percent higher than that for our

urban residents and more than double the national rate.

Alabama is economically dependent upon its rural areas and our rural areas must have adequate health care

to meet this need. During this special week of recognition for rural health, express your support for

measures and policies that can strengthen rural health care in Alabama.


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Mountain Lakes Resort Provides Fun and Funds

mtn lakes resort 2 mtn lakes resortGUNTERSVILLE, ALABAMA – November 13, 2015
Classic cars, great people, a pink pumpkin named Eddie and A LOT of money – to the tune of $1,350 to be exact.  The Ocean Canyon Properties Mountain Lakes Resort put all their efforts over the course of October toward raising funds and awareness for a very important program that benefits women who cannot afford an annual mammogram in Marshall County.
Dottie Benson, activities coordinator for Mountain Lakes Resort says, “We were so excited to be doing something for our community.  I am excited and proud of our members for their participation in making this happen.”
The group at Mountain Lakes hosted a Classic Car Show with live music, food and fun as well as offered up opportunities for folks to donate during nightly activities hosted at the resort.
“We were so honored that the staff and volunteers approached us wanting to help raise money for our Mammography Assistance Program at Marshall Medical Centers,” says Andrea Oliver, director of the Foundation for Marshall Medical Centers. “I went to the Classic Car Show and was blown away by the support everyone was giving to the fundraisers.  It was one of the most upbeat and festive events I have attended!”
In 2015 alone, hundreds of mammograms were provided free of cost to Marshall County residents who qualified for assistance through the Mammography Assistance Program.  As more funding comes in, Marshall Medical Centers will be able to do many more.
“We plan on doing this again next year.  We all feel so good about this,” says Dottie, who deserves a big pat on the back for her vision and hard work.
If you think you might qualify for the Mammography Assistance Program, you may call the Marshall Financial Center at 256-894-6600 for more information.

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First graders learn from birthing pumpkins

Guntersville Elementary School’s first graders spent the day having babies – pumpkin babies, that is. “Pumpkin birthing” is a longstanding tradition at GES and filled the school with excitement Tuesday. Drs. Jill Roberts and Alicia Ewing were attending physicians “delivering” the pumpkin babies to children. Wrapped in a tiny blanket each baby was placed in the arms of a child. Students then opened blankets to reveal if they had a girl or a boy, which was denoted by pink or blue caps, ribbons or pacifiers. It sounds like playtime but actually is a learning experience, says teacher Kim Bell.
“It’s a fun way to incorporate math and science,” she says. “We’ll also write about the babies so it will involve literacy too.” Students spent the afternoon weighing and measuring their babies, and checking to see if they float or sink in water.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says GES Principal JulieAnn McCulley. “It’s very exciting!”
pumpkin4 pumpkin3 pumpkin8pumpkin6

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Laughing, encouraging despite breast cancer battle

Cynthia Daviscynthia Davis1

Cynthia Davis just finished treatment for a rare type of aggressive breast cancer. Odds are it will return. She also is dealing with a divorce, has no job and is broke.

But you would never guess that she has a care in the world. She greets everybody with a big smile and a hug. While going through treatments at the Marshall Cancer Care Center in Guntersville, she made it her mission to try to brighten the day of everyone else. She became known as ‘the great encourager.”

“She would just make them forget whatever they were dealing with,” said Cindy Sparkman, director of the Cancer Care Center. “That’s just kind of who she is.”

Davis agrees.

“I’ve always been an encourager,” she said. “It comes from the heart. I’ve tried to encourage patients here.”

She makes even more effort to reach out to others now that she has been through cancer because she knows how bad a diagnosis feels.

“I remember how I felt,” she said. “I didn’t want anybody feeling sorry for me. I want to help others get through it because I feel like I had it easy. I just tell them to stay positive.”

Easy? That’s because 16 rounds of chemotherapy – four of them the strongest type – followed by 30 radiation treatments didn’t make her sick. Her doctor called it “amazing,” she said.

“My sister said she had to keep reminding herself that I had cancer because I didn’t act like it,” Davis said. “I’m just glad I made it through like I did.”

The reason Davis’ sister thought she didn’t act like someone suffering from cancer was because she was always joking, laughing and dressing up in funny costumes. In other words, Davis was being herself.

While working at Jack’s in Boaz for the past few years, Davis became known as the lady who dressed up for every holiday. And not just on Halloween – when she wore a costume that looked like a giant slice of bacon. She was Uncle Sam on Fourth of July. She wore green glasses and hat with a light-up necklace on St. Patrick’s Day. Davis kept doing all those things at the Cancer Center after she was unable to work. She came in recently wearing a wig she had dyed pink. Davis refers to her new physique as “flat and fabulous!”

The only times the cancer made her cry was, first, when she began to lose her hair after the second treatment. It came out in clumps and she decided to get it shaved. Her daughter Hannah shaved hers too.

“It broke my heart,” Davis said. “She shaved her head for me. I didn’t want her too. She had beautiful long hair.”

The second time she cried was following her mastectomy and she saw what she looked like without breasts. Now she jokes about it.

“I tell people that I can mow my yard topless and they can’t do anything to me,” she laughs. “That’s the way to deal with it – just joke about it.”

Davis, who lives in Boaz, found a lump late last December while in the bathtub. When she went to the doctor, he found a second cluster. A biopsy confirmed it was cancer.

“I didn’t get upset,” she recalls. “I didn’t cry.”

She decided to have both breasts removed. After surgery in January, it was determined that Davis had triple-negative breast cancer. It was also in her main lymph node, which was removed. The surgeon told her that it was such a fast-growing cancer if she had found it one week later, it would have spread to all her lymph nodes and into her organs.

Davis, now 49, had never had a mammogram. She can think of no reason why she didn’t. But now she urges women to get regular screenings, and is happy to share her story for motivation.

Studies have shown that triple-negative breast cancer is more likely to spread beyond the breast and more likely to come back after treatment, according to the website, The risks appear to be greatest in the first few years after treatment. As years go by, the risks of it recurring become similar to the risk levels for other types of breast cancer. Five-year survival rates also tend to be lower for triple-negative breast cancer.

Doctors told Davis her cancer is likely to return within two years, and will probably show up in the brain or bones. She refuses to dwell on that, choosing instead to live every day with as much joy as possible.

“I’m just thankful to be alive,” she said. “If it comes back, I’ll fight it again. I’m just thankful that I’m here today. I’m thankful for the strength I have and for the personality I have to help others.”

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High school students must fight through challenges to become leaders


High schoolers were challenged to walk a high-wire, climb through a giant spider web and to navigate an obstacle course all to test their leadership skills.

The mission of the Marshall County Youth Leadership program is to develop leaders. And that’s just what 36 juniors from the county found out as they worked their way through the tests, which were simulations of the real things.

“It is intended to put participants in difficult, if not impossible, scenarios to develop leadership skills and accomplish a task,” said Matt Brooks, who has a degree in recreation administration and led students through the challenge. “It increases their stress level to determine where their weaknesses are in leadership ability. It teaches them how to develop their weaknesses in order to become effective leaders.”

Brooks encouraged the students to imagine that instead of walking a cable strung 18 inches off the ground they were actually 50 feet in the air. He advised them to be resourceful, and they were. Students held to each other to form a chain that stretched the length of the cable, helping each to get across safely. When navigating a cable with another strung overhead, a student took off his belt and used it to shimmy across.

MCYL is a cooperative effort between Marshall Medical Centers, Citizens Bank & Trust in Guntersville, Snead State Community College and the Marshall County Leadership Challenge Alumni Association.

“Citizens Bank & Trust is grateful for the opportunity to support an organization like Marshall County Youth Leadership,” said Mike Alred, president of CB&T. “MCYL gives the students a chance to experience different leadership and team building activities throughout the school year, and we feel that these are invaluable skills that will contribute to their continued success in the future.”

The students from eight high schools meet monthly to learn about county industries, law enforcement, healthcare, community service and etiquette.


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Quitline provides free help for quitting tobacco

quit smoking

With the 25 cent per package tax increase on cigarettes in Alabama, now is a perfect time to stop using tobacco. The Alabama Department of Public Health urges all tobacco users to break the addiction by calling the Alabama Tobacco Quitline for free help to quit.

Tobacco use in the state of Alabama is responsible for more than $1.88 billion in health care costs every year, which is a tax burden of $841 per household annually. Each year 8,600 Alabamians die from their own smoking. One in 4 heart disease deaths, nearly 1 in 3 cancer deaths, and 8 in 10 deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are caused by tobacco use. More than 16 million Americans are living with diseases caused by tobacco.

For any Alabama resident who is ready to quit tobacco, the Quitline offers two methods of assistance: the toll-free Quitline (1-800-784-8669) and online coaching services. Each operate seven days a week from 6 a.m. to midnight.

Since April 2005, thousands of Alabamians have called the Quitline to help themselves or family members learn how to be tobacco free. The program helps tobacco users quit by providing information, a quit plan, coaching and nicotine patches, all at no cost. Information and coaching sessions are confidential.

For those preferring electronic services, the website, mobile apps and text messaging are also available.

Individuals enrolled in the coaching program can receive a minimum supply of two weeks of nicotine patches, if medically eligible, and up to a maximum of eight weeks of patches, while supplies last.

If you, a friend or family member are ready to quit smoking or chewing tobacco, the Quitline is here to help. All services are free to Alabama residents.

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