Medicaid expansion and reform likely taken up in special session
It’s Day 90 of the legislative session, with work on capital and operating budgets still underway. House and Senate Majority leaders say there isn’t time to give the governor’s bill on Medicaid expansion and reform its due.
On Saturday, Gov. Bill Walker said he was preparing for a special session and would soon be talking with legislative leaders about the best time to call one.
“My thoughts are on the fiscal side. Everybody’s still here,” the governor said. “From a financial side, how it makes the most sense is to stay here a little bit longer, to see if we can get that done.”
Senate President Kevin Meyer says he’s torn about what would be the best time for a special session on Medicaid. He said it might work better to take it up in the fall, when the Legislature plans to call a special session on the Alaska Liquified Natural Gas project, but he also sees the advantages of meeting now while lawmakers are still in Juneau.
Meyer said if the governor had introduced a bill earlier in the session, as legislative leaders had requested, it might have been a different situation.
“If we had had a bill to start with and could have had the public discussion, we would have been a little further along,” Meyer said. “It was about 30 days out, when we got Sen. Pete Kelly’s bill, and his was pretty reform-oriented. About a week later, the governor gave us his, which is more expansion-oriented.”
“I just don’t think we’re going to get to Medicaid during this regular session, because everyone’s so scattered on it.”
On Saturday night, Walker’s Commissioner of Health and Social Services, Valerie Davidson, was preparing for the special session. She had stacks of papers laid out on a long conference table. The governor had requested information about how much communication there has been to lawmakers regarding Medicaid expansion, because they have complained the administration has not adequately answered their questions and has failed to provide them with enough information about the reform side of the equation.
Davidson said it has been an interesting exercise to compile the emails and information that has been provided to the Legislature. She said her department testified at committee hearings at least 26 times.
“Enough’s enough. It’s time,” said Davidson. “Alaskans would really like to have action. They’d really like to have health care.”
But Meyer said it’s possible lawmakers could gavel in to a special session and not pass the governor’s bill.
“At some point in time, we’re not going to be able to make a decision, and you just go home. It’s very possible.”
On Saturday, the governor said he was committed to working with the Legislature and had not yet reached the point where he would consider enacting Medicaid expansion by executive order as some states have done.
The Walker administration wants to accept $145 million in federal money to expand Medicaid, making more than 45,000 Alaskans eligible for health care. Opponents have argued the system is broken and cannot absorb more people.
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