Former Gov. Robert Bentley says now is the time to expand Medicaid eligibility in Alabama, since the state's general fund budget is healthy and the prospects of repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, are dwindling.

Bentley, who has resumed practicing dermatology in his hometown of Tuscaloosa since his unceremonious departure from Alabama's governor's post in 2017, has become an outspoken proponent of Medicaid expansion in recent days.

The former governor argues Medicaid expansion, which has long been resisted by Republicans in Alabama since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, would bolster the struggling health care services in rural Alabama.

During an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5's "The Jeff Poor Show," Bentley insisted it was no longer valid to oppose Medicaid expansion to stop the implementation of Obamacare. 

"[W]e did not have the money to do it when I was in office," Bentley said. "And basically, even though we did not expand it first because the few governors that were left were still fighting the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. And then, in 2016, [they] all ran on one thing. They said we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Well, we won the Senate. We have the House, and we have the presidency. But the problem with it is the leadership, the Republican leadership in Congress had made no preparation to replace it. And so, we had to keep what we had.

"Now it is the law of the land, and you know what? We're just as well to take advantage of that $2-to-3 billion that's available to the state of Alabama that other states are getting. They're getting our money, so we need to take that in and start using it in the state of Alabama."

Lawmakers have been hesitant to embrace Medicaid expansion in the past, citing the obligation it would create for the state's general fund, which may not be as flush as it has been in recent years.

However, Bentley suggested that the state attempt to negotiate with the federal government.

"I hate to say what they need to do but let me tell you what they need to do: they need to negotiate with the federal government," Bentley said. "They need to go to Washington and say, and kind of play hardball with them, and say, 'The reddest state in the United States, which is Alabama, one of the 12 to 14 states that have not expanded -- the reddest state of Alabama will expand if you will give us two or three years of free matching like they did the states originally, and you cut us a deal because if we decide to do it, then other states may decide to do it, and that will help them to make that decision.

"So you negotiate with them. You don't take what they say they're going to give you right now. You go and say, 'We'll consider doing it if you do such-and-such.' I mean, the federal government will negotiate because they want to see it happen. I want to see it happen, but you don't just give into them initially. You go in and say, 'We'll consider this if this is what y'all will do.'"

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