The Right Choice for Alaska
By DAN ORTIZ
February 23, 2015
(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - Access to affordable health care is an issue of significant concern to Alaskans. Former Governor Parnell chose not to accept expanded Medicaid coverage for the State of Alaska. Dissimilarly, Governor Walker made Medicaid expansion a part of his campaign. Since our new governor took office, he has been working towards the enrollment of Alaska in the program. I do not argue that the Affordable Care Act and its implementation has come without problems exhibited across the nation. I argue instead that a piece of the act, called Medicaid expansion, makes solid economic sense for Alaskans.
The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the Anchorage Chamber, the Alaskan Nurses Association and many other groups of Alaskans across a wide spectrum of populations and political parties support expansion. I join them in support of Medicaid expansion because I value the health and prosperity of Alaskans. There are far too many hardworking Alaskans who simply cannot afford basic medical treatment. If Medicaid is expanded, approximately 42,000 Alaskans who do not have healthcare will receive it. Of this group, 44% are employed. These Alaskans are not offered health insurance by their employee, are not eligible for existing subsidized plans, or cannot afford the burden of an individual health insurance plan. Of the remaining 23,500 Alaskans, 21% are retired, in school, have family obligations or are in another circumstance that prevents them from working, 30% are unemployed and the rest are unable to work. Alaskans who will receive health care through this expansion are not limited to any part of the state. All regions, populations and sectors of the economy will benefit.
Some of my fellow lawmakers have expressed concerns about the cost of Medicaid expansion. I know that we can offset those costs by reducing or eliminating general fund contributions to programs that cover the newly eligible, the incarcerated, and other groups that will be covered by the expansion. I am concerned about the cost of not expanding Medicaid. Medicaid is one of our state’s brightest hopes in this tough fiscal environment. In the first year alone, it is projected to save the state 6 million dollars. There will be many other positive economic effects seen from Medicaid expansion. According to Northern Economics, an Alaskan research group, over the next seven years Medicaid expansion in Alaska will provide 4,000 new jobs, bring in 1.2 billion more in Alaskan wages, increase our state’s economic activity by 2.49 billion and create 1.1 billion in new federal revenue for Alaskans.
Medicaid expansion is the right thing for Alaska.
Dan Ortiz writes A View From the House column weekly.
Ortiz is an independent member of the Alaska House of Representatives, who has since 2015 represented the 36th District. He is the only independent in the Alaska State Legislature.