Medicaid expansion supporters grow more vocal as session comes to a close
The pressure on lawmakers to pass Gov. Bill Walker’s Medicaid expansion bill continues to grow as church coalitions ask their congregations to write letters and attend rallies in support.
One is planned at Wasilla Lake at noon on Friday at Newcomb Park. Two were held on Thursday, one in Anchorage and another on the Capitol steps, where more than 100 people gathered.
“I would like to ask you senators and representatives one question,” Pastor Paul Beran said. “What would Jesus say?”
Beran, a minister at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Juneau, talked of Judgement Day.
“All of us will face the sunset,” Beran said. “And when we come to the sunset, we will hear the words, ‘I was sick. What did you do about it?’”
Beran is among a growing number of religious leaders in Alaska who call Medicaid expansion a moral imperative.
David Katzeek, a Tlingit leader, thanked people in his Native language for coming together over this issue.
“Gunalcheesh. Gunalcheesh,” he said.
“It is the kind of spirit to cheer every day. It’s the kind of spirit the great spirit looks down upon — and sees people working together to help each other for the benefit of one another and kindness,” Katzeek said.
Medicaid expansion supporters used the slogan, “It’s the right thing to do,” but House Majority leaders worry that expansion could be the wrong thing to do if not accompanied with enough reform.
“We want to make sure we are doing the right thing,” said Steve Thompson, co-chair of the House Finance Committee.
“I think we have to be responsible. We have to make sure we have everything in place that is going to function,” Thompson said. “The system hasn’t been working. We know that.”
Thompson said the House Majority is not completely comfortable with Medicaid expansion.
He says the large supplemental bill the Legislature must pass to cover Medicaid costs for the current fiscal years points to some serious cost-control problems.
“I’m afraid it might not get through the process this year,” Thompson said.
House Majority leaders, as well as those in the Senate, say they don’t think a decision to expand Medicaid services to more Alaskans can be rushed.
Rep. Bob Herron, a Bethel Democrat as well as a member of the Majority, said lawmakers need more time to weigh the pros and the cons.
“How do we link them together? And so, we’re on this discovery mode,” Herron said.
“I told the governor, if it’s that important to you, keep us here,” Herron said. “Do what you have to do to articulate your desire to have expansion, with the desire of the Legislature to have some reform.”
The governor on Thursday did say he plans on calling lawmakers back into special session if they don’t pass House Bill 148 before adjournment.
At the rally, he told the crowd that other Republican governors have accepted Medicaid expansion.
“Health care is not a partisan issue. Health care is an Alaskan issue, and we’re going to accept it,” Walker said to a cheering crowd.
Medicaid expansion supporters believe there are enough votes to pass the governor’s legislation, or very close to the number needed.
A number of Republicans say if a vote were held on Medicaid expansion, they would break with the Majority because their districts support it.
But Senate Majority leaders say they won’t let the governor’s bill go to the floor for a vote until they’re satisfied the state’s risk in accepting about $145 million in federal funding is manageable.
If the state were to accept the money, the Walker administration says it would give more than 40,000 Alaskans access to health care. Many of those are young adults with minimum wage jobs, who can’t afford insurance.
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