Senate committee green-lights 2 Medicaid bills

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The Senate Committee on General Fund Finance and Taxation gave a favorable report on two Medicaid-related bills Tuesday, one aimed at curbing fraud and another aimed at increasing funding.

SB284 from Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) specifies that a person must “knowingly engage” in Medicaid fraud in order to be charged for the crime and applies “safe harbor” laws, similar to those in federal law, which are established to protect certain “business arrangements.” Further, the legislation would provide for prosecuting corporations, as well as individuals, and put in place a six-year statute of limitations on the prosecution of such charges.

“I believe this kind of legislation, not only provides the vehicle to better enforce the law, it will help to encourage compliance,” Pittman said. “We all want to trust, but this ensure that things are being done properly.”

Concern was voiced over the bill’s call for charging offenders with a Class C felony for offenses amounting to more than $10,000 in fraud, noting that a Class D felony would be more in line with a nonviolent offense, but Pittman noted that such crimes rob people desperate for assistance.

“I would say, if you’re taking taxpayer money, these types of crimes are of the worst type,” Pittman said, and with that the committee green-lighted the bill to be sent before the Senate.

SB136 from Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Mobile) offered a bill that provide an additional 5-mill property tax, the proceeds going to help fund the state’s beleaguered Medicaid program. Figures noted that the additional tax would amount to about $15 for a property worth $50,000 and would generate $280 million annually starting in 2019.

The bill had widespread support from committee members during discussion, many noting that Alabama’s Medicaid program is among the state’s biggest expenses and that such a move would go a long way in addressing that problem. Further, many praised the legislation for putting the issue before the public for a vote, rather than simply applying a tax increase.

The legislation narrowly gained a favorable report, since six senators voted against it.

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