Governor Sean Parnell’s decision not to expand Medicaid surprised and disappointed some groups that had hoped for the expansion.
Over the past several months, a number of groups took stances, urging the governor to expand the program.
The Alaska Chamber of Commerce, which is comprised of about 530 member organizations, including AARP, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, voted last month to make Medicaid expansion a top legislative priority.
Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together also voted to push for expansion. Several AFACT members met a half-hour before the governor’s news conference to pray he make the right decision.
“I’m not happy about this decision because there are 40,000 people that are not going to be covered by insurance when they could be,” said Phyllis Rude, an AFACT member who joined in the service outside the Atwood Building.
Many AFACT members would have benefited from the expansion, Rude said.
“They have to choose between paying for medical care and paying for rent and food,” she said. “Most of them postpone getting medical care until there's a crisis, so they don't get preventive care and they don't get care when something is small, so they end up going to the emergency room when it becomes a crisis and they can longer deal with it.”
But Rep. Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River) applauded the governor’s decision.
“Right now, we have about 151,000 patients on Medicaid. It's costing the state an average of about $12,000 per patient," Reinbold said. "Let's look at programs like Project Access that are really wonderful programs that are trying to find those people that aren't getting covered and let's see, can we boost those efforts up?”
Reinbold said expanding Medicaid in Alaska would further burden the federal debt.
“Right now, we're at a $17 trillion debt,” Reinbold said. “I'm very, very concerned at a federal level right now with the unimaginable debt that we have and if this Medicaid expansion basically is federal dollars, we're creating a huge liability to future generations.”
The governor’s decision also affects older Alaskans, said Ken Osterkamp, AARP’s Alaska director.
Medicaid currently provides healthcare coverage for pregnant women and women with children whose incomes fall within a certain federal poverty level.
If the governor had expanded the program, those without children, “childless men, in particular,” would have been covered, Osterkamp said.
“It is a really critical time right now for the 50- to 64-year-old population,” Osterkamp said. “They have a chance of really encountering a snowballing series of bad events in their lives—they lose their job, then they lose their healthcare.”
Osterkamp said he’s “very disappointed” a decision involving Alaskans and millions of dollars was made with "such lack of transparency."
“Really, the big thing, the big disappointment for us is that the decision was made in secret, with a lack of transparency around the process,” Osterkamp said. “He essentially hid the report that he relied on, and it was commissioned with public money."
“Everyone who was on record with Medicaid expansion was on record supporting it--from the state Chamber of Commerce, to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Commonwealth North to the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, AARP--we were all lined up in support of Medicaid expansion and for some very good fiscal and moral reasons,” Osterkamp said.
Osterkamp said AARP will now work with individual legislators to expand Medicaid.
“It's just crazy that we're taking money that we've already paid in federal taxes and giving it to other states,” Osterkamp said. “That money has already been paid, we already bought this. We just have to go pick it up at the window at his point and Governor Parnell doesn't seem to want to do that.”