As budget talks continue, so does debate on Medicaid expansion
The House Finance Committee discussed the budget in Anchorage on Thursday.
Many lawmakers have not taken a full vacation, despite the recess. They continue to hold meetings, particularly House and Senate leaders and those who are involved with the budget negotiations. The main arguments revolve around funding for education, union contracts and the ferry system.
Medicaid is another issue Gov. Bill Walker wanted addressed during this special session, but no public meetings have been held on that yet.
Outside of the new legislative building, dozens of people were part of a rally for Medicaid expansion and reform. It has the support of many legislators, though not all of the key players.
One of the ralliers, 28-year-old Annette Alfonsi, talked about her car accident and how she’ll soon run out of her own money to pay for her medical care.
“It’s flabbergasting to me how strongly I have to fight for the opportunity to be a worker bee,” she said. “I want to work, I want to stay working, but I need the right medical care to be able to do so.”
Supporters of expansion say tens of thousands of Alaskans like Alfonsi will become eligible for health care, and that federal money coming in will save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. They also say it will create thousands of jobs.
But a few legislators say they are uncertain when it comes to how much federal funding can be relied upon. There is also a federal court case that could have an impact on the system. Reform of Alaska’s current system is what some say is needed first.
“I don’t want to be the legislator that passes a program that 10 years from now breaks the state,” said Rep. Charisse Millett. “I don’t think anybody wants that to be there legacy.”
“I don’t believe that there is any legislator that I’ve talked with that doesn’t want Alaskans to have access to health care,” said House Speaker Mike Chenault. “It’s how to we put together a policy how do we put together that program where it actually works.”
Chenault says a hearing on Medicaid expansion will be scheduled soon.
Legislators are expected to gavel back in but the Capitol building is now being renovated. Even though other facilities are available in Juneau, some lawmakers want to continue the special session in Anchorage.
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