MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives voted Tuesday to prevent the state from requiring doctors and other medical professionals to accept Medicaid — or any other specific type of insurance — to keep their licenses.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, said the bill would protect doctors from being forced into accepting insurance they can’t afford to take. She also said it would protect the licensing process, which she said is based on the quality of applicants, not other considerations.
“We want to maintain that superiority,” she said.
Critics of the proposal questioned the need for Nordgren’s bill — doctors are already free to turn patients away based on the insurer they use — and said the main goal of the bill was to protect a doctor’s right to reject Medicaid patients.
“You’re just turning your back onto the sick,” said Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee.
Nordgren, who works in the medical supply industry, has proposed a handful of bills this year that would allow doctors to opt out of some practices. The House passed a bill by Nordgren that would allow medical providers to refuse to participate in abortion and some other reproduction-related procedures. Another of her bills, which has yet to get a vote in the House, would give health care providers the option of accepting payment from Medicaid in the form of a tax credit.
Critics of the bill asked if anyone in the state was even considering an effort to require doctors to take Medicaid or any other type of insurance. Nordgren responded that Massachusetts had set up just such a rule, and she wanted to prevent the imposition of a similar rule here.
“There’s no need for this now, there’s nothing going on,” Warren replied. “You’re the only one in the state who’s making this a situation of urgency.”
Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatom, who is a pharmacist, thanked Nordgren for introducing the bill. Beech said pharmacists often see customers whose insurance plans don’t pay enough to allow the pharmacist to see a profit.
“You have to look out for your family,” she said.
The bill passed the House 77-16.
Etowah County coroner Michael Gladden, who is running against Nordgren as a Democrat, said he wishes lawmakers had looked deeper at the problems that might make doctors reluctant to accept Medicaid.
"I would like to see more focus on fixing the part of Medicaid that's not acceptable to physicians," he said. "Then it's a win for the patient and a win for the doctor."
In other business Tuesday, the House:
— Passed 92-2 a bill that would ban children under the age of 15 from using tanning beds. Fifteen-year-olds would need parental permission and a parent present, while 16- and 17-year-olds would require only parental permission.
— Passed two bills proposed by Rep. Koven L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, related to funeral services. One, which passed 90-1, would clarify some of the state’s wording on licensing of funeral directors. The other, passed 83-2, would require funeral directors to attend continuing education classes.
HOW THEY VOTED
A “yes” vote would ban the state from requiring doctors to participate in insurance plans as a condition of licensure.
• Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston -- Did not vote
• K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville -- Yes
• Steve Hurst, R-Munford -- Yes
• Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden -- Yes
• Randy Wood, R-Saks -- Yes