Some streets and sidewalks around Anchorage are still covered with ice and snow, but the summer primary election to decide which Republican will oppose Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in November is already taking form.
Begich’s famous (or infamous) vote in support of the Affordable Care Act is among the most discussed issues in the campaign.
But there is another issue that stems from the 2010 law itself: a provision that calls for the expansion of Medicaid benefits to nearly all low-income adults.
21 states rejected the provision and refused to accept federal money to expand Medicaid benefits. Alaska is among the states that did not expand coverage, due to a decision by Republican Gov. Sean Parnell last November.
The governor said at the time that “federal dollars are enticing but not free" and that he did not want to further attach the state to a “failing Obamacare system.”
While the decision was lauded by some critics of recent federal healthcare reform, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates 17,290 Alaskans were left without access to health insurance as a result of Parnell’s decision.
A common question raised as part of Alaska Asks, a forum with the Republican candidates for Senate, was about what the candidates would do to help people without access to health insurance.
Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell were each asked a version of that question that came from Twitter: “What are the candidates’ intentions to expand healthcare for Alaskans who don't qualify for Medicaid?”
Sullivan, a former Attorney General of Alaska, did not describe a plan to address the coverage gap. Instead he railed against the effects of Obamacare – “it’s not accomplishing at all what it set out to do,” he said – and he ended with a claim he often makes along the campaign trail that is contested by Begich’s campaign.
“When we have huge pieces of legislation like (ACA), senators, members of Congress, have to understand what’s in it,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think Mark Begich read it.”
Starting with a 2009 town hall while the bill was being considered and as recently as a radio interview this March in Fairbanks, Begich insists he and his staff read variation of the bill including the final version that passed.
Joe Miller offered a similar response, calling for a repeal of Obamacare.
"Begich, the sixtieth vote, he's going to go down on that issue," Miller said, referring to Begich's yea vote on ACA. "The fundamental problem we've got with the country right now is the government wants to continue to expand healthcare."
Instead of providing a detailed plan for closing the coverage gap, Treadwell focused on what he has done as part of Parnell's administration.
"I supported the governor's approach on Medicaid," Treadwell said. "Most of the people who are 'uncovered' by Medicaid have some coverage, either from veterans benefits or from Native health benefits, and we continue to strongly support those institutions."
This is part of KTUU's coverage of #AKasks, an hour-long forum hosted by the Alaska Press Club that brought together the GOP candidates for Senate.