House passes budget for immediate expenses
The House on Monday overwhelmingly passed a budget bill that covers expenses bill proponents say is needed in coming weeks.
It's a $110 million bill-- a fraction of the larger $4.5 billion operating budget under review-- and known as fast-track supplemental legislation.
It passed 32-7.
The bill includes funds for the Alaska Marine Highway System, the Department of Corrections and the state's community assistance program. The largest portion is $45 million for Medicaid.
House Finance Committee co-chair Paul Seaton says it’s enough to pay hospitals and doctors through April.
Medicaid funding came from a last-minute amendment and was approved but not without lengthy debate. According to the latest figures, nearly 200,000 Alaska residents receive some Medicaid assistance.
“We have a recession going on and every dollar that we spend, every single dollar that we spend whether it’s federal or state dollars, comes out of the private sector-- and a lot of people in the private sector can’t afford health insurance,” said Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River).
Rep. Les Gara countered, "I just want people to know 33,000 more people are on traditional Medicaid than were in 2015. The Department has kept the Medicaid budget below the 2015 level. So for serving 33,000 more people, we are spending roughly $1 million less.”
The $45 million is half what Gov. Bill Walker originally requested in the overall $224 million supplemental request.
The respective finance committees decided to give urgency to certain expenses and save the remaining requests for future consideration.
“Medicaid expansion was not the cause of this,” Seaton said. “This was due to the Alaska recession and more people qualifying for regular Medicaid at the 50 percent reimbursement rate. We have statutory obligations that providers provide services and this is compensating for that.”
The bill moves on to the Senate for further review. It’s scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee Thursday.
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