Legislators talk medicaid, capital budget

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Sunday, April 5, 2015 10:19pm
  • News

JUNEAU, Alaska — As the Legislature enters the final two weeks of the scheduled 90-day session, one of the major unresolved issues is whether consensus can be reached on a Medicaid expansion and reform package.

The House Finance Committee has scheduled two-a-day meetings for Tuesday through Thursday, with the morning sessions to be focused on Gov. Bill Walker’s Medicaid bill. Walker has made expanded coverage under Medicaid a priority, and his administration sees expansion as going hand-in-hand with efforts to contain and bring down costs within Medicaid.

The program that accounts for about 60 percent of the state health department budget and is a driver of the state operating budget.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, told reporters the current system is broken, and there are concerns with adding more people to it.

“We think that there are things that need to be addressed before expansion happens,” he said. “Does that mean that the governor doesn’t get an expansion bill by end of session? I can’t say because it’s the legislative process.”

The committee’s co-chair, Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, said the committee will try to get a better handle on the issues involved.

Meanwhile, the Senate Health and Social Services Committee also is working on Medicaid legislation.

Committee chair Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said he has become more comfortable with the idea of expansion as he has researched the issue.

But he said there isn’t a one-session fix to reforms. That, he said, needs to be an ongoing conversation.

Medicaid expansion is one thing to watch for this week. Here are two others:

The Senate Finance Committee plans to take public testimony Monday on the state capital budget.

Walker and lawmakers attempted early on to tamp down expectations for the infrastructure budget given the massive deficits the state is projecting amid low oil prices.

Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said a bill could be on the Senate floor by Friday.

Meanwhile, a conference committee comprised of House and Senate members is expected to be appointed to try to hash out differences in the versions of the state operating budget that passed each chamber.

The state House is poised to take up a bill that calls for the transfer of certain federal lands in Alaska to the state by January 2017.

A legislative attorney, in a memo to Chenault in February, said the bill, HB 115, is unconstitutional.

Chenault, the bill’s sponsor, said courts decide whether things are constitutional.

Chenault said one of the big problems facing the state is that with so much land controlled by the federal government, there are many missed opportunities for the state to develop Alaska’s resources, put Alaskans to work and bring in revenue.

The bill would exclude national parks, federal land used for military purposes and land to which the title is held by a person.

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