Murkowski vows ‘no’ vote on repealing Medicaid expansion, defunding Planned Parenthood
Last updated at 6:31 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 22
Sen. Lisa Murkowski addressed the Alaska Legislature Wednesday morning for the 15th time since taking office in 2002. It’s an annual speech that she and the rest of Alaska’s congressional delegation deliver to update members of the Legislature on work in Washington, D.C.
Beyond laying out her priorities on energy and land management, Murkowski also addressed what she referred to as the “elephant in the room,” referring to the process underway in Congress to begin repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare.”
“The Affordable Care Act has failed in so many ways,” Murkowski said in her address. “But there are elements within it that deserve to be saved.”
She specifically referenced Medicaid expansion — an opportunity provided by the ACA, that has given healthcare to more than 27,000 more Alaskans who would not have coverage otherwise.
“As long as Alaska wants to keep the expansion it should have the option,” Murkowski said. “I will not vote to repeal it.”
Other parts worth preserving, Murkowski said, are provisions that prohibit insurers from discriminating against pre-existing conditions, aim to ensure mental health parity and allow young people to remain on their parents’ health insurance up to the age of 26.
Murkowski also stood in support of Planned Parenthood, which she said has no place in the ACA debate.
“Taxpayer dollars should never be used to pay for abortions, but I will not vote to deny Alaskans access to the health services that Planned Parenthood provides,” said Murkowski.
The nonprofit provides health care coverage to more than 7,700 Alaskans each year, according to Alyson Currey, a representative for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii.
“That was a really pleasant surprise,” Currey said of Murkowski’s speech. “We really commend her for her leadership and her strong support.”
More than 100 Planned Parenthood supporters rallied on the capitol steps following Murkowski’s speech to show their support for the senator.
“I think the energy was really high, folks were encouraged to hear that Senator Murkowski will not vote to defund Planned Parenthood today, so that really riled up the crowd,” Currey said.
In a press conference with reporters following her speech, Murkowski said she recognized the anxiety many Alaskans are feeling now because of the uncertainty surrounding an ACA repeal.
“I’m in the airport, I’m sitting in my seat, in between Wrangell and Petersburg, coming up here and people are concerned. They tell me ‘My family, I’ve got a family member that has cancer. I’m not quite sure if something happens, is this going to be a situation where he’s going to be denied coverage because it’s a pre-existing condition?’ And I don’t know,” said Murkowski. “I would like to be able to give some certainty about where I’m coming from.”
Murkowski added that she wants to make sure Alaskans and the Legislature are with her on her position regarding Medicaid expansion.
Now, just over a month into President Donald Trump’s administration, Murkowski said it was too soon to evaluate his performance. But the Alaska senator did comment that the president “stepped in it” with his travel ban.
“Like everybody else, we’re still looking critically to that,” said Murkowski, noting that she does not support mass deportation.
Beyond Trump’s actions, Murkowski outlined her renewed priorities for Alaska on energy.
“Here’s the plan,” she told lawmakers. “Our first task is to restore our lands and waters.”
Murkowski called for further resource development beyond oil and gas, doing more to provide opportunities for logging and mining, and pushing Congress to streamline the permitting associated processes.
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan was scheduled to deliver his address to the 30th legislature on Friday at 11 a.m. That has been moved to 10:30 a.m.
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly spelled Alyson Currey’s name and stated she was a representative of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands. This has been amended.
Correction: This report incorrectly stated Sen. Murkowski had given only her seventh speech before the Legislature. This has also been amended.
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