Governor of Alaska pushing for Medicaid expansion
The independent governor of Alaska Bill Walker is planning to expand the health program to cover over 400,000 poor, uninsured residents of the state. Walker “is still weighing his options whether to do it through legislation or do it on his own,” governor’s office spokesperson Katie Marquette said. The dilemma stems from the fact that the Republican-led Alaskan legislature has previously blocked several efforts to expand Medicaid since Walker was elected in November 2014. As a result, Alaska has been one of the about 20 GOP-controlled states that have rejected the expansion, turning down $472.1 billion in federal funds and leaving 6.9 million poor Americans without coverage. Walker’s spokesperson Grace Jang added that the new announcement is not the start of the program but an explanation of how the governor aims to proceed without a mandate from the Republican lawmakers.
The governor first tried to include funding in the current fiscal year's budget for an expansion back in January, but legislators removed the funding claiming that it required a separate bill. After that, Walker introduced a bill in March to expand coverage, but the lawmakers argued that the current system needs to be revamped, so the proposal got stuck following preliminary hearings. The debate has thrown a wrench into budget talks that forewarn a partial shutdown of the government. The current budget included language that prevented Walker from accepting more than $130 million in federal funds, but the lawyers for the state and legislature remarked that those provisions were not constitutional. Anchorage Republicans such as Rep. Mike Hawker are not happy about Walker’s intentions.
Moreover, some Alaska lawmakers have said that the state shouldn’t risk the possibility that the federal government pulls the program and leaves the state footing the bill for Medicaid costs that it cannot afford. They added that the current Medicaid system must be fixed before it can be expanded. “It's not the time to dump tens of thousands of people into that system,” Republican state senator Pete Kelly said. “We've got a system that's broken.” And as we all know, a financial shot in the arm never solved anything, like ever. Conversely, Walker has said that additional healthcare can save lives and improve the quality of life of thousands more, not to mention that it would breathe new life into the state’s economy, helping to pay for prisoners’ medical care and making sure that medical bills are paid at hospitals and clinics.