Democrats hope to change governor’s mind
JUNEAU – Although Gov. Sean Parnell said “no” to Medicaid expansion, Democrats aren’t ready to give up.
Thursday, they introduced a bill aimed at changing his mind.
“Scores of Alaskans will die without this Medicaid coverage,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, (D) Anchorage. “By failing to expand Medicaid, the governor failed to provide health care to 40,000 Alaskans.”
Last November, Parnell refused to participate in the federal expansion because, he said, if federal money for the program dried up the state would have to pick up the tab.
Josephson and other Democrats said their bill would fix this problem.
“When the governor made his decision, I was frankly incredulous, because I view this as such a simple matter,” Josephson said.
The bill would allow state participation in the expanded Medicaid program so long as the federal government picks up 90 percent of the costs. Once it fails to do that, the program would end.
Democrats also argue that an expanded Medicaid program would save Alaskans as much as $257 per person because it would keep patients who can’t afford health care out of emergency rooms, where bills often go unpaid and the hospital makes up for the difference by raising rates.
Anchorage Democrat Sen. Berta Gardner presented reporters with a list of Alaskans who would get health care if Medicaid were expanded.
One of them is a 50-year-old cancer survivor from Kenai who works two jobs, has no health insurance and has also had four heart attacks – but earns a little too much to qualify for Medicaid.
Another is a 62-year-old fisherman from Craig who suffers from neuropathy, which has affected his balance and forced him to cut back on his fishing time. The man is not eligible for health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats are hoping they will win over some Republicans to their cause.
Rep. Lance Pruitt, the House majority leader, doesn’t think they will.
“It’s just disingenuous to give people something and then try to take it away,” Pruitt said. “Maybe it’s like a child and you give them a toy. You’re not going to yank it out of their hand. This is essentially what this is.”
Parnell said the bill does not address his concerns either. He said if Democrats get what they want, the state could wind up in a bad position.
“Those are the same Democratic lawmakers who, when federal funding is going away from education, they’re turning to the state now for a BSA (Base Student Allocation) increase to cover those federal funds that are declining,” Parnell said.
Rep. Mia Costello, (R) Anchorage, said the governor is right.
“Show me a program that the federal government has provided money for that they haven’t either decreased or taken away from us,” Costello said. “It’s hard to find.”
Costello said it would be better for the Legislature to put more effort into increasing employment opportunities for Alaskans so more workers could get health insurance through their employers.
Democrats said the federal money, even if it lasts for just a few years, might give Alaskans without access to health care some time to take care of some health problems before the program expires.
But with Republicans in control of both legislative bodies, the bill could very well get stuck in a committee and never be heard, though some Republicans have said they welcome the dialogue.