Congress Must End Surprise Billing the Right Way

by Stewart Burkhalter

Surprise medical billing is a longstanding problem that contributes the rising costs of care patients face in our health care system. Momentum to address this issue seems to be building in Congress, but federal legislators must ensure that whatever solution they enact does not inadvertently threaten access to care or increase costs even further for Alabama workers.

The Trouble with Benchmarking

Unfortunately, a particularly misguided proposal that would implement a “benchmarking” approach to solving this problem would do just that. Under benchmarking, the U.S. government would set out-of-network rates for physicians using insurance companies’ own biased data and in-network averages as a guide.

By using these highly discounted in-network rates as a basis for out-of-network ones, benchmarking would:

  • Slash reimbursements for physicians performing out-of-network care.
  • Pass tremendous financial losses onto local hospitals and emergency rooms, many of which are already struggling.
  • Make it harder for these facilities to continue providing high-quality, comprehensive health care for Alabama communities, particularly rural ones.
  • Lead to fewer choices and higher prices for patients as rural health care facilities are forced to cut back services, consolidate, or close down for good.

By unfairly skewing an already distorted marketplace, benchmarking poses a serious threat to rural, blue-collar communities here in Alabama and across the country. Congress must find a better approach.

Ensuring Fairness through Dispute Resolution

Fortunately, there is a far more effective solution that has been outlined in other legislative proposals under consideration in Congress. Known as Independent Dispute Resolution (IDR), this process would enable medical providers and health care insurers to settle out-of-network payment disputes between themselves.

Not only would IDR shield patients from the entire process, but it would help ensure payments are fair and accurately reflect the cost of care by providing a neutral negotiation process. Here’s how it would work:

  • Providers and insurers would submit their best offers for payment through an online portal.
  • A third-party mediator would review these offers as well as a number of factors and independent data to determine a final payment amount.
  • Until that time, initial payments to providers would help keep at-risk hospitals and emergency rooms serving Alabama’s hardworking rural communities strong and secure.

What it all boils down to is fairness. IDR is a balanced, reasonable approach that ensures neither “side”—nor the U.S. government—is dictating prices for the other. Instead, the two parties are able to reach a middle ground through open, transparent negotiations, much like the compromises that the labor and business communities reach to advance solutions that work for both parties.

Time for Congress to Act

Now is the best opportunity for Congress to move forward with a true, IDR-focused solution to end surprise medical billing once and for all. Representative Terri Sewell and the rest of Alabama’s congressional delegation should work to ensure that whatever bill Congress passes includes the equitable IDR framework.

Alabama’s workers and rural communities are counting on a fair, balanced approach to protect patients and preserve access to care. IDR offers just such an approach.

Workforce Development | Kay Ivey – Governor of Alabama

The Success Plus Postsecondary Education Attainment Goal

  • Governor Ivey tasked the Alabama Attainment Committee, a subcommittee of the Alabama Workforce Council, to develop a statewide goal for postsecondary attainment to ensure that Alabamians have access to in-demand career pathways leading to valuable, portable post-secondary degrees, certificates and credentials.
  • Based on the recommendations from this subcommittee, Governor Ivey set the statewide post-secondary attainment goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled Alabamians to the workforce by 2025. Using labor market data to identify the state and regional credentials of value, Governor Ivey is working to align Alabama’s high schools, community college, and adult education programs to career pathways in high-demand fields.

Braiding Alabama’s Federal Education and Workforce Funding Streams

  • Three federal laws—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA was reauthorized in 2015), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins CTE was reauthorized in 2018), and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA was reauthorized in 2014)—were aligned by design to create an education-to-workforce pipeline linking students to in-demand career pathways.
  • ESSA provides funding for public education from kindergarten to 12th grade. Perkins provides states funding to improve both secondary and postsecondary career and technical education (CTE) programs. WIOA funds the public workforce development system for youth and adults looking for meaningful employment.
  • Governor Ivey will work to braid Alabama’s WIOA and CTE funding streams to support apprenticeships for in-school youth. The governor’s recently established Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation (GOEWT) will encourage the state and local WIOA boards, the ACCS, and the ALSDE to work together to ensure that WIOA and CTE funds are used to provide complementary services for programs aligned to in-demand career pathways. Governor Ivey is working with the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) and the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) to promote co-enrollment in WIOA Title II adult education programs, postsecondary CTE programs, and WIOA title I adult programs.

Continue reading on Governor.Alabama.gov

Made in Alabama Workforce and Training Resource

The Department of Commerce’s Workforce Development Division is dedicated to assisting the growth of Alabama businesses and the workers that sustain their operations. By directing individuals toward job skills improvement programs, education, and training, the Workforce Development Division equips workers with the tools and talents that employers demand.

Learn More and Access all the Resources on MadeInAlabama.com

Alabama’s competitive edge in the new economy

Alabama has a proud history of fostering innovation and inspiring great ideas that have transformed how we live, work and do business. From the Saturn V rocket that took us to the moon to Shipt’s grocery delivery app that has now become a household name.

Through the leadership of Representative Bill Poole and Senator Greg Reed during this past session, the legislature passed the Alabama Incentives Modernization (AIM) Act, a transformative piece of legislation that primes Alabama for success by ensuring that entrepreneurs and technology-based companies have the tools they need to flourish in our state.

Simply put, the AIM Act is a game-changer.

Group of computer programmers workingIt expands Alabama’s economic development efforts by investing in tech-based jobs and removing barriers for companies that want to grow in the state. It accomplishes this by focusing on rural development, tech job recruitment and opportunity zone enhancement.

Most importantly, it serves as a launching point for prioritizing the workforce of the next generation.

Huntsville’s success as an aerospace and biotech hub continues to generate entrepreneurial and tech growth in the North Alabama region. In Mobile, the Innovation PortAL serves as a launchpad for growing startups and connecting them to the resources and funding they need to succeed. Tuscaloosa’s state-of-the-art incubator, The EDGE, supports West Alabama’s entrepreneurial community through professional development opportunities and local pitch competitions. And in Birmingham, we’ve seen smart, effective initiatives that have put Alabama on the map for growing companies, high-profile exits and emerging tech companies from San Francisco to Atlanta that are relocating their headquarters to Alabama.

Continue reading on Yellowhammer News

Plastics manufacturer picks Alabama for first U.S. facility

A German plastics manufacturer has selected Alabama as its first place in the United States to set up shop.

ID Plastics LP plans to invest $9.8 million to open a manufacturing plant in Auburn. The company plans to create 50 jobs over the next three years.

Initially, the company will produce the ID PACK sleeve, a foldable, returnable transportation container system used in various industries.

ID Plastics was created by Martin and Andreas Hartl who also own DUROtherm Plastics and Infinex Group. The two companies are headquartered in the Black Forest in southwest Germany and have roughly 600 employees.

Continue reading on Birmingham Business Journal

Ivey announces ID Plastics to open manufacturing operation in Auburn, creating 50 jobs

Governor Kay Ivey announced Monday that ID Plastics LP, a manufacturer of a variety of technical plastic products, is set to open its first operation in Auburn, investing $9.8 million.

“Our continued efforts and partnerships with local communities have led to another great manufacturer coming to Alabama,” Ivey said. “ID Plastics’ decision to select Alabama will create 50 jobs for families in East Alabama over the next three years.”

At first, the company will produce the ID PACK sleeve, a foldable, returnable transportation container system used in various industries.

A press release noted, “Brothers Martin and Andreas Hartl formed the Alabama-based business operation with the plan to bring various products of their companies, DUROtherm Plastics, a thermoforming specialist, and the Infinex Group, an extrusion specialist, to a production center in the U.S. The two companies are headquartered in the Black Forest in Southwest Germany and have approximately 600 employees.”

“Transport containers have always had downsides of one kind or another,” Martin Hartl said. “We responded with an innovative collapsing container system that eliminates these problems. The ID PACK is a truly problem-free sleeve pack system.”

Andreas Hart also discussed his vision for the company as it relates to the parts and manufacturing required.

“German technology made in the U.S.A. with state-of-the-art, customer-oriented manufacturing — that’s the perfect combination, the way we see it,” Hart said. “This was the foundation for the ID PACK collapsible container system and the big advantages it offers in a wide range of logistics applications.”

Auburn Mayor Ron Anders expressed his support for the German operation in a statement.

Continue reading on Yellowhammer News

Federal grant to help develop workers in west Alabama

LIVINGSTON, Ala. (AP) — A $2.5 million federal grant will help develop new workers with a goal of expanding economic development in rural west Alabama.

The money is going to the University of West Alabama for work in a 10-county region.

The area includes some of the state’s poorest counties, and officials sometimes cite the lack of qualified workers as part of the problem.

Continue reading on Alabama Daily News

Manufacture Alabama names new COO

A former state director for Sen. Richard Shelby has been appointed chief operating officer of Manufacture Alabama.

Garrett Jemison will start the newly created role Oct. 7. Manufacture Alabama is a trade organization dedicated to the competitive, legislative, regulatory and operational interests and needs of manufacturers and their partner industries and businesses.

Continue reading on Birmingham Business Journal

The union movement's ground zero is California

United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District, at loggerheads over a contract for a year and a half, are now in 11th-hour state-run mediation talks. The teachers’ union deems insulting the latest offer by Superintendent Austin Beutner, so it seems increasingly likely that 33,000 L.A. educators may make good on their threat to strike.

Cue the critics: A teacher’s strike will just hurt the kids. See? Unions are too radical and corrupt and do more harm than good.

california flag

Balderdash. Unions aren’t perfect, but the monotonous smear campaign against them shows how out-of-touch haters are. Especially in this era of Trump, unions offer working class America a competing vision of prosperity and protection. Unlike the California quitters who leave the state complaining that the dream is over for the middle class, labor argues that solutions start with good jobs and management that takes care of more than quarterly earnings.

And in recent years, unions across the state, across different industries, have made their case to the public.

In Kingsburg, more than 500 Sun-Maid workers went on strike for two weeks in September over reduced healthcare coverage; the raisin giant eventually offered a better contract. At Keck Medical Center of USC, the National Union of Healthcare Workers picketed this month to argue that workers at USC-run health clinics should receive the same fully paid health insurance enjoyed by their colleagues at USC hospitals.

Continue reading on The LA Times

With 8 Years of Job Gains, Unemployment Is Lowest Since 1969 Image

The unemployment rate fell to a nearly five-decade low in September, punctuating a remarkable rebound in the 10 years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers set off a global financial crisis.

By almost any measure, the American economy is humming. Gross domestic product is on pace for its best year since the housing bubble of the mid-2000s. Consumers and businesses are the most confident they have been in years, if not decades. Stock market indexes are near record highs.

The latest milestone came in a Friday report from the Labor Department: The unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent last month, the lowest since December 1969, when hundreds of thousands of working-age Americans were serving in Vietnam.

“I view this as the strongest labor market in a generation,” said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at the career site Glassdoor. “These really are the good times.”

The turnaround from a decade ago is hard to overstate. In September 2008, American employers cut 443,000 jobs as the financial system collapsed around them. More than seven million more jobs evaporated in the months that followed. Even when the hemorrhaging stopped, shellshocked executives were slow to bring back laid-off workers, sparking fears of a “jobless recovery.”

But when the hiring engine finally kicked back into gear, it did so in historic fashion. The 134,000 jobs added in September made it the 96th consecutive month of growth — eight full years, double the previous record. Employers have added close to 20 million jobs during that streak. (September’s growth, a modest slowdown from August, would probably have been stronger absent the effects of Hurricane Florence, which struck the Carolinas in the middle of the month.)

Continue reading on The New York Times.