Alabama's 2019 Regular Legislative Session was filled with sadness with the news of the passing of two of our friends and colleagues. Representative Dimitri Polizos, R- Montgomery, passed at the beginning of session from a heart attack and ended with the loss of Representative Jimmy Martin, R- Clanton, passing from cancer. Not only did we lose two colleagues this session, but other members suffered from illness. Newly-elected Senator David Burkette, D-Montgomery, suffered a stroke early on this session and Representative Victor Gaston, R- Mobile, suffered from a brain aneurysm.
With the loss and illness hitting so many this session, I am reminded of how important the work that we do at the American Heart Association is. Heart disease and stroke are the number 1 and 4 killers of Alabamians, respectively, claiming more than 16,000 lives in this state each year. I am more motivated than ever and hope you will join me in continuing the great work of AHA in the upcoming months to make a real impact on changing those outcomes!
Thanks to the help of You're the Cure advocates, the American Heart Association was able to protect access to care, reduce youth access to e-cigarettes, and expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
A bill to Limit Access to Care:
The AHA represents over 100 million patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD) including many who rely on Medicaid as their primary source of care. In fact, twenty-eight percent of adults with Medicaid coverage have a history of cardiovascular disease and the Medicaid program provides critical access to prevention, treatment, disease management and care coordination services for these individuals. Because low-income populations are disproportionately affected by CVD – with these adults reporting higher rates of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke – Medicaid provides the coverage backbone for the healthcare services these individuals need.
The connection between health insurance and health outcomes is clear and well documented. Americans with CVD risk factors who lack health insurance or are underinsured, have higher mortality rates and poorer. SB294 would have required semi-annual eligibility verifications and establish work requirements for Medicaid eligibility under certain conditions, making it more difficult for Medicaid recipients to have access to care. Together, with our health partnerships and advocates, we successfully defeated SB294 by Senator Arthur Orr, R- Decatur.
Limiting Youth Access to E-cigarettes:
In 2018, e-cigarette use among high school students rose by 78 percent, and more than 3.6 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes – an alarming increase of 1.5 million students in one year. E-cigarettes come in flavors that appeal plays a key role in youth use of tobacco products. Due to the outcry from parents, teachers and advocates from across the state, the Alabama Legislature took steps this session to curb youth access to e-cigarettes and limited the marketing of these products to our youth.
The American Heart Association advocated and supported the e-cigarette Regulation bill, HB41 by Representative Shane Stringer, R- Citronelle and Representatives Barbara Drummond, D- Mobile. HB41 requires e-cigarette retailers to be regulated just like other tobacco retailers by the Alabama Board of Alcoholic and Beverage Control, requiring them to get a permit. The bill also limits the marketing to minors on billboards and opening stores within a 1,000 feet of places children are engaged.
Access to Fresh Fruits & Vegetables:
Alabama currently ranks 5th in the nation in obesity and 2nd with adult hypertension. There are 36% of adults who are obese and 35% of our children are obese or overweight. Additionally, nearly 1.8 million and a half million children live in communities with limited access to fresh, fruits and vegetables. In 2016, the Alabama Legislature passed the Healthy Food Financing Act to incentivize grocers and farmers markets to locate in communities with limited access to fresh, fruits and vegetables. The American Heart Association ensured that the $200,000 allocation for the Alabama Healthy Food Financing Act would remain in the General Fund Budget. To date, HFFI has received a total of $700,000.
It is important that we remain vigilant in improving the lives of all Alabamians and work toward reducing cardiovascular disease.
The great Martin Luther King once said, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”. I encourage you to become involved in our legislative process and help be the voice that matters when it comes to policy impacting the lives of Alabamians.
Believe or not, we're about to prepare for the 2020 session and other state policy work. We hope you'll continue to join us in transforming the state through policy change! Stay tuned for a You're the Cure alert that will ask you to take a short survey to find out what issues you're most interested and how you'd like to be engaged. It will take all of us working together to improve the health of Alabamians.
Thanks for your advocacy!