Alaska Supreme Court gives Governor go-ahead with Medicaid expansion
By MARY KAUFFMAN
September 02 2015
Governor Bill Walker said in a prepared statement, “Judge Pfiffner’s ruling [Friday] ensures 20,000 working Alaskans will have access to health care on September 1st. Medicaid expansion will not only save the state over $100 million in its first six years, it will save Alaskan lives. I look forward to working with members of the legislature on implementing the Healthy Alaska Plan.”
Alaska Senate President Kevin Meyer and Alaska House Speaker Mike Chenault were disappointed with the ruling.
The ruling is being praised by the members of the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition (AIDC).
“Medicaid expansion does several very good things for the state of Alaska,” said AIDC Leader Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage). “It saves the state millions of dollars during tight fiscal times, injects billions into the Alaska economy, increases the number of Alaskans with healthcare, and will result in cheaper healthcare insurance for everyone. The Republican Majority should not be frivolously spending public money supporting an outside advocacy law firm dedicated to stopping Medicaid expansion nationwide.”
The Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition asserts that during the first session of the 29th Alaska Legislature, the Republican led leadership in the House and Senate repeatedly tried to prevent consideration of Medicaid expansion by refusing to hold hearings on expansion bills, tabling amendments on the floor, and including unconstitutional restrictive language in the FY 2016 budgets.
Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) has been working on the Medicaid expansion issue since 2013. He put forward specific pieces of legislation in 2014 and 2015 authorizing the State of Alaska to accept federal funding to expand eligibility in the Medicaid program.
“By refusing to properly consider Medicaid expansion legislation, the Majority leadership in the House and Senate left the Governor no choice but to use his executive power to help thousands of Alaskans get life-saving healthcare,” said Rep. Josephson (D-Anchorage). “It’s clear to me that the Republican controlled Leadership in the House and Senate didn’t want a vote on Medicaid expansion legislation because it likely would have passed. Instead of allowing an up or down vote, they chose to use the legal system to try to deny healthcare to needy Alaskans.”
Friday’s Superior Court ruling was only focused on the request to stop the implementation of Medicaid expansion on September 1st. The Legislative Council lawsuit will proceed in the coming months. Rep. Sam Kito (D-Juneau) sits on the Legislative Council and he cast the lone vote in opposition to going forward with the lawsuit against the Governor.
“Only ten members of the Alaska Legislature signed off on the lawsuit despite the public claim that the Legislative Council’s action represents the will of the full Legislature,” said Rep. Sam Kito (D-Juneau). “[Friday] ruling clearly shows that there will be no damage to the State of Alaska from expanding Medicaid this fiscal year. I am confident the Governor will prevail in the lawsuit and thousands of Alaskans will be have better health outcomes through Medicaid expansion.”
Medicaid expansion in Alaska is a top priority of Governor Walker and expansion is said to be supported by a large majority of Alaskans. Medicaid expansion is projected to be a boost to the Alaska economy by creating up to 4,000 jobs and generating $1.2 billion in wages and salaries.
“It’s time for the Legislative Council to drop the lawsuit and save the State $450,000 in legal fees,” said House Finance Committee member Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage). “Lawmakers should be allowed to vote on a Medicaid expansion bill that contains $6 million in savings and another $330 million in budget savings through Medicaid reforms.”
“This ruling clearly demonstrates that the Legislative Council does not have a leg to stand on in this lawsuit,” said Rep. David Guttenberg (D-Fairbanks). “If the Council proceeds with the lawsuit they will be wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on a failed attempt to prevent 40,000 Alaskans from getting needed healthcare coverage.”
The costs of Medicaid expansion will be fully covered by the federal government this fiscal year. The federal match will slowly be scaled back to 90 percent in 2020. Governor Walker has been assured by the federal government that the State of Alaska can opt out of Medicaid expansion at any time with no penalty.
“Medicaid expansion puts Alaska in better standing in the moral universe by caring for Alaska's uninsured and most vulnerable,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka). “Plus, it saves millions upon millions of dollars. As most of Alaska has realized, saving millions upon millions of dollars is a very, very good thing. I support Governor Walker providing healthcare to uninsured Alaskans and I hope this litigation ends as soon as possible.”
Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) said in a prepared statement, “Friday’s court decision to allow Medicaid expansion to go forward in September
Gardner wrote,“I sincerely hope they view this decision, along with the four legal opinions from our own attorneys, as confirmation that their arguments are not valid, and that they should save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars and drop their suit against the Walker Administration."
“Most importantly," wrote Gardner, "I am happy for the Alaskans who will finally have access to good health care coverage, and I am glad the state will finally participate
A statement from the White House said, "Governor Walker made the right decision to expand Medicaid to tens of thousands of Alaska residents, including Alaska Natives, beginning September 1st. Alaska is the 29th state in addition to the District of Columbia to implement this option and prioritize the health of the state’s citizens over narrow political interests. Hospitals and businesses throughout Alaska will save on uncompensated care costs, and hardworking families will gain the peace of mind that comes with health security. Today’s news is an important step in ensuring that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health insurance, and we'll continue to work with the 21 states that have not yet taken advantage of Federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to over 4 million Americans who needlessly remain uninsured."
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