SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Medicaid Bill To Provide Benefits to 42,000 low-income Alaskans Introduced


March 17, 2015
Tuesday PM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - Alaska Governor Bill Walker (I-AK) today transmitted legislation to provide health care coverage to up to 42,000 low-income Alaskans, reform Medicaid, and bring more money into the state.

Rendezvous Senior Day Services, Inc. - Ketchikan, Alaska

PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center - Ketchikan, Alaska

Creekside Family Health Clinic - Ketchikan, Alaska

Northway Family Healthcare - Ketchikan, Alaska

“As Alaskans, we have a long tradition of caring for each other when times are tough,” Governor Walker said. “This proposal will save money and save lives. It provides health care for more Alaskans using less state money. It’s the right thing to do.”

The bill will take advantage of available federal resources by accepting an estimated $146 million in federal Medicaid expansion money; and lays out the governor’s plans to reform the state’s Medicaid system to ensure the program is affordable over the long term.

The bill will make health coverage available through Medicaid to Alaskans who earn about $20,314 or less ($9.76 per hour) or married couplies who earn $27,490 or less.

“Governor Walker and I have heard from so many Alaskans about their inability to get the health care they need,” Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson said. “We all have an interest in ensuring that Alaskans are as productive as possible and can contribute to our communities and economy. But people can’t work, hunt, or fish when they are not healthy.”

Quoting a news release from the Governor's office, through 2016, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs for newly covered Alaskans. After that, the federal match transitions to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond. The savings to the state will more than cover our match.

According to the Governor, access to health care means improved health outcomes and increased productivity and independence. More Alaskans will get preventive and primary care, including behavioral health services and help in managing costly chronic diseases.

Business owners will benefit because of reduced turnover and fewer lost work days due to employees with unattended illnesses and injuries. Reductions in uncompensated care will help keep a lid on insurance premiums, stated news release.

According to the Governor, dozens of Alaska organizations and local governments, and thousands of individual Alaskans have expressed support for federally funded Medicaid expansion coupled with smart reforms.

An estimated 42,000 Alaskans will become eligible for Medicaid under the bill, and 20,000 Alaskans are expected to sign up the first year, according to Evergreen Economics, the state’s longtime Medicaid consultant.

The bill is expected to bring $146 million in new federal money to Alaska in FY 16, the equivalent of about 10 percent of the state’s FY 16 capital budget. The money is expected to generate an estimated 4,000 jobs and $1.2 billion in wages and salaries. It will reduce the state’s FY 16 general fund budget by $6.5 million.

“We pay for health care one way or another,” Governor Walker said. “Alaskans pay into the federal treasury and this is a practical way to build our health infrastructure using federal money.”

The governor’s bill makes Alaska’s participation contingent on the state’s match not exceeding 10 percent. Governor Walker received a letter from U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell confirming that Alaska can opt out with no penalties if the state match goes above the 10 percent written into federal law.

The 13 members of the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition announced their support of the Medicaid expansion legislation unveiled today by Governor Walker.

“Medicaid expansion is a no brainer,” said Coalition Leader Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage). “We fought in the House Finance Committee and on the Floor of the House to keep expansion in the budget. The House Majority put politics before people and turned down those efforts by calling for a bill from the Governor. They now have a bill. There should be no more delay. It’s time to get to work and get this done before the end of session.”

“The stars are aligned right now to take advantage of full federal funding to allow some of the neediest Alaskans to receive health care through the expansion of Medicaid,” said Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), who led the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition’s efforts to reinsert Medicaid expansion in the FY 2016 budget. “I am very much looking forward to the time when I can tell my constituents that their health trumps politics. If this effort is not successful, it will be a wasted opportunity.”

“Last fall’s election results show a broad support for Medicaid expansion, including my constituents in West Anchorage,” said Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage). “There has been a lot of talk about Medicaid reform, and market forces are already driving those changes. This bill is a good start to make sure our State laws and regulations continue to support reforms to our Medicaid program.”

Quoting an Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition news release, Governor Walker’s legislation seeks to increase Medicaid eligibility up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Until 2017, the federal government will pay 100% of the cost. After 2017, the federal match will be 90%. Governor Walker confirmed he has received a commitment from the federal government that Alaska can withdraw its expansion if the federal match falls below 90%.

Governor Walker’s Medicaid expansion legislation seeks to address the concerns of critics by also focusing on reform of the Medicaid system. The bill gives the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services the authority to expand the use of telemedicine and incentivize innovation in the delivery of healthcare. The Department will also be able to expand the use of waivers, stated the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition.

“This Legislature has the opportunity to help grow 4,000 jobs in a struggling economy and cut the budget gap because of the tens of millions of dollars in savings this bill will generate,” said Rep. Les Gara. “That’s a good deal for the people.”

Americans for Prosperity Alaska, the state's foremost group of grassroots activists has been extremely active in the fight against Medicaid expansion in Alaska and are urging state legislatures to say no to medicaid expansion in Alaska.

Americans for Prosperity's Alaska State Director, Jeremy Price said today in a prepared statement, "While Gov. Walker announced his Obamacare Medicaid expansion bill today, he stated that expansion will be a catalyst for reform. When asked by reporters, he had trouble identifying any cost-saving reforms in his proposal. One thing was clear from today’s press conference, the Governor is excited that expansion funding from the federal government will supplant state funding. Shifting costs from the state to the feds is not truly reforming our broken system. On behalf of thousands of activists across the state, we express our appreciation to legislators in the House who voted against the Obamacare expansion last week. We also applaud the efforts of Sen. Pete Kelly, who introduced legislation that would reform Medicaid and truly bring down the cost curve. In this time of great fiscal uncertainty, we encourage the legislature to focus on real reform. It’s the right thing to do."

Quoting a news release, Americans for Prosperity Alaska stated they will continue to fight "Obamacare's" Medicaid expansion. Activists have been extremely engaged on the issue, and the group is urging the Alaska State Legislature to stop the expansion.

Governor Walker’s Medicaid expansion and reform legislation will be formally introduced and receive committee assignments on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.

Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


On the Web:

Download Gov. Bill Walker's Bill

Download the fiscal note narrative



Source of News: 

Office of Gov. Bill Walker

Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition

Americans for Prosperity Alaska

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