Del Marsh and Powertrip Pittman were taking in the evening air and drinking wine on the patio of the A&P Social last night. You’d think Marsh would avoid Pittman like the plague (that’s if Blue Cross covers it, of course) but he was sidled up and toasting to a job poorly done by Pittman. As divine Providence smiles on righteous endeavors, Michael Braun (whom I call friend, has a young son on the spectrum and has been an important partner in this process) just happened to see Pittman and Marsh yesterday evening. I’m happy to report that Michael carried all our emotions yesterday with him and had an hour long “discussion” with them. Marsh stated multiple times to Michael that Pittman would sign 284 out of committee today and that he would make sure that we got a fair floor vote, including time to debate the 2 amendments. We shall see whether Marsh can control Pittman, whom he purposely assigned our bill to and only after sitting on it for a week. We shall see…I’d like to give Marsh an opportunity to do the right thing on this bill and get us that fair floor vote.
As for that mess yesterday, Powertrip Pittman could only manage to poll the votes for two amendments out of 7 and I consider it a huge victory considering what was in those 5 defeated amendments. We need to maintain perspective and where we sit. I think we are close to getting our bill passed with a solid chance of getting those 2 amendments voted down in the Senate.
As the committee discussions ensued and dragged on, I couldn’t help but scan the crowd to see the Usher handing tissues down aisles to parents who couldn’t hold back the tears of anger. Pittman callously talking about the medical conditions of two of his kids while denying and fighting against our realities and limitations to get the therapy our children require. To see the Blue Cross leading man, Robin Stone, slumped in his chair, eyeing Pittman like some Olympic coach watching from the stands; nervous yet excited. Flanking Stone and lining the hallway outside of the committee room, were an army of kids in suits pretending to have life experience, wisdom and displaying an ignorant arrogance that invites Karma to, one day, whack you with a series of hard life lessons. Who among us weren’t similar at 25? Filled with that false sense of awesome and fake confidence and I thank God, every day, for my life struggles, obstacles and lessons that continue to shape me. I pray the same for these kids that sat perched in their seat like they were watching an Alabama/Auburn game and oblivious of the emotion, wisdom and life experience that surrounded them or the evil damage they were taking part in.
This was the crux of my issue yesterday. To have this Blue monopolistic and callous company release a politically timed letter from their CEO “volunteering” to offer coverage for ABA therapy a day before a committee vote on HB284 and then “coaching” their Pittman puppet on their carefully designed 7 amendments only solidified my belief that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama needs to be put in their place. We are the people and they do not dictate to the people nor our government. It felt like Blue Cross got another public hearing through the Pittman mouth while we were largely forced to sit, cry and hope (except for Ashlie Walker’s perfectly explained defense of Telehealth and vocal complaint that got most of the Blue Cross lobbyists removed from the committee room, and Stacy Ladden’s standing and hand raising on the amendment dealing with ASD diagnostics). It was incredibly one-sided with prepared bullet points and pages upon pages of detailed amendments. We did have pictures of our kids laid out on the committee table and that, my friends, made impressions. At a few points yesterday, I thought I was watching a stage rendition of The Best Little Whorehouse in Montgomery. I must admit that I did let my imagination wander picturing Pittman singing “Hard Candy Christmas” about the general fund budget (while gifting $6.5 million to Airbus to build a facility that Airbus will own). But, I digress and….. I just threw up in my mouth a little.
Blue Cross and Powertrip turned on Senator Cam Ward yesterday by trying to silence and defang, what they perceived, as the singular obstacle to their 7 amendments yesterday. They hammered Cam for the 2012 Riley Ward Act and how Blue Cross had worked with him on that negotiated “offering”. At one point, Pittman tried to corner Cam on whether or not his first proposed amendment (which was based on the Riley Ward Act) was an improvement on the 2012 Act. It was all strategy to diminish Cam and throw some dirt on him for what happened in 2012 in an attempt to fracture our group. But, it didn’t work and Cam sat strong, owned what happened in 2012 (which I respected) and countered Pittman and Blue Cross arguments with success. Senator Holtzclaw made some well-timed Marine references and pulled the Pittman/Marsh strategy of “burning our time to kill our bill” out into the sunlight of public knowledge.
Who is running the show for the Alabama Republican Party, though, that time after time after time we only solidify that we are not fit to govern? It’s not about sticking to “conservative principles” but the pitiful “fakeness” of pretending to talk “Republican” and use “conservative speak” that is damaging the Alabama Republican Party. The games of putting bills in baskets and intentionally not assigning them or having one committee chairman threaten to be “King” by not signing a committee majority vote goes beyond party politics. It puts self above people and that is not what is required of leaders in 2017. At this point, I don’t know whether the people are going to give our Party another shot. Since taking the majority in 2010, it has only been 7 years and it’s no secret that Bob Riley is still calling power shots and enriching himself, Business Council of Alabama wants legislation “run past them” and Blue Cross hands out “money candy” to all our elected officials. This is what’s wrong with Montgomery but NOBODY will stop it and run these “Jacobites”, with their screwed up self-important belief in the “Divine Rights of Crony friends and Business,” out of our governmental houses, where the people are to rule through elected proxies.
This is also the singular fatal flaw inside the Republican Party that I do not support nor agree with: that the impersonal and dictating demands of “business” is superior to people. I own a business and it is driven entirely by how I serve my clients and treat people. When business grows to a point to where we are mere chattel or numbers then the “business” becomes a threat to the people, a threat to small business (because customer service is the central foundation to small business success) and a threat to this experiment in Constitutional governance. As a Republican, I oppose these big businesses that hold to these beliefs that control of people and control of government fits into their business model. This is the historical actions of Blue Cross Blue Shield and I’ve been given a bird’s eye view these past few months as I’ve fought to get HB284 passed. Their actions have shown me how they truly feel about we, the people, and that they believe that they are somehow robed in royal scarlet and pivotal in our collective survival. They are wrong. Why, in the 21st century, do we require a “middle man” to manage, negotiate or distribute negotiated payments to hospitals and doctors and only after the “middle man” takes a huge slice of our payments for themselves (which Senator Slade Blackwell helped keep secret because their Blue Cross executive salaries are THAT offensive). But, we are the crazy ones that want the opportunity to pay premiums (not to go above 1% or the mandate is dead) to get our children and adults medically necessary treatment for Autism.
We’ve got some good Senators on our side that are fighting in the trenches to get HB284 to the floor for a vote. I want to give those shout outs to Senator Dick Brewbaker of Montgomery, Senator Tom Whatley of Auburn, Senator Bill Holtzclaw of Madison, and Senator Cam Ward of Shelby County. They are all Republicans that have bi-partisan support from Democrats to filibuster and stop the entire legislative process to force our bill to the floor for a fair vote. There are multiple Senators that I have not had the pleasure of meeting yet, and many were on the General Fund committee yesterday, that have stood firm in support of HB284 in its integrity and as passed by the House.
There are so many moving parts to getting this Autism Insurance bill passed but the most important component driving this entire process is you. It is your goodness in this fight and your constant emails, calls and social media messages that is making the difference. I’m but one voice, though a loud one and, at times, not a nice one, and it is all of us working together and in unison and for ALL our stakeholders that have us at the doorstep to one of the best Autism Insurance outcomes in the entire country that balances helping our Autistic children and adults while being mindful and addressing concerns for exploding costs through the 1% “kill switch”. I can’t express fully how proud I am of all of you and you give me hope that we can take our government back and shape it into a state that we want to give to our children and grandchildren.
At this moment, I’ve never been more confident in our success. I believe that the two amendments can be defeated in the Senate and I believe we can get a Senate floor vote that will have bi-partisan support. It is now we must believe more than ever and have only positive and focused thoughts and continue to motivate and encourage our Senators. Those who have shown themselves through action to be our champions and voice… let them know every second of every day for the next week. They must know we are with them as we put that final stone in our sling preparing to swing it at our Blue Goliath.
With humble thanks to all of you fighting with me.
James R. Gallini