What others say: Despite likely political backlash, securing care and funding overdue

  • Monday, July 20, 2015 4:20pm
  • Opinion

On Thursday morning, Gov. Bill Walker announced Alaska will become the 30th state to accept Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The governor’s unilateral move, taken after the Legislature declined to act during their regular session and two special sessions called afterward, won’t likely win him friends in the Alaska House and Senate majority caucuses. But providing a health care option for 20,000 of the state’s most at-risk residents is worth taking some political heat.

After the Affordable Care Act’s adoption in 2010, states had the option to accept an expansion of Medicaid that would extend eligibility for the federal program to those earning as much as 150 percent of the federal poverty level wage. But if states chose not to expand Medicaid, it created a hole in the health care coverage the reform was supposed to provide. Those earning less than poverty-level wages were already eligible for Medicaid, and those making wages of more than 150 percent of the poverty threshold had to pay for private coverage but were eligible for subsidies to defray the cost of those plans. But those between 100 percent and 150 percent of poverty wages were caught in between — without Medicaid and also without subsidies that would render private insurance affordable. In Alaska, there were more than 20,000 state residents in that position.

Gov. Walker campaigned on a promise to expand Medicaid, and brought it to legislators in January as one of his top priorities. But plans for expansion were stymied by the legislative majority caucuses, whose members slow-walked the issue over concerns about the feasibility of expanding the program and fears the federal government would eventual renege on its plans to pay for the lion’s share of expansion costs.

These fears aren’t wholly without merit — Xerox, brought on to manage upgrades to the state’s Medicaid billing, had all manner of trouble. The company made such a hash of the new system initially that providers were waiting several months for payments, leading the state to file suit against them in 2014 over delays and poor implementation. Over the intervening year, however, the state Department of Health and Social Services says Xerox’s system has improved significantly, with new claims being serviced in fewer than 10 days on average and more than 90 percent of claims being paid successfully upon the bill’s first submission. The state is continuing its suit against the company to ensure the remainder of issues with the company are successfully resolved.

But opposition from majority caucus legislators seemed to stem largely from partisan political divides, whether due to a fundamental philosophical opposition to legislation drafted by President Barack Obama or differences with Gov. Walker. Rhetoric on the issue in legislative hearings was often distressingly similar to talking points distributed by national political figures.

Perhaps more disappointing was the utter lack of urgency given to the issue by state lawmakers who dragged their feet at every step of the process, speaking strongly against Medicaid expansion but offering no alternative that would provide any kind of assistance to the more than 20,000 Alaskans living without any way to pay for health care. Legislators who were only too happy to accept federal funds for projects such as the Juneau road, the public benefits of which are dubious at best, suddenly became reluctant when those dollars were for health care instead.

If there’s a knock on the governor’s acceptance of Medicaid expansion, it’s that his unilateral move may widen the rift with leaders of the Legislature’s majority caucuses, who opposed the action. That could make dealings more difficult during next year’s legislative session, when the governor and legislators will have to make hard decisions about balancing the budget.

But Gov. Walker was more or less backed into a corner — Medicaid was one of his biggest priorities, and legislators had given him little hope they would act on the issue in any kind of reasonable time frame.

Most importantly, acting to secure health care for 20,000 Alaskans was the right thing to do, and good leaders shouldn’t hesitate to do the right thing because of the political consequences.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, July 17

More in Opinion

t
Opinion: Freedom in the classroom sets precedence for the future

We advocate for the adoption of legislation to protect students’ First Amendment rights…

A roll of “I Voted” stickers await voters on Election Day in Alaska. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the prospect of a state constitutional convention. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Election winners, losers and poor losers

Tshibaka and Palin misread Alaskans by thinking Trump’s endorsement all but guaranteed they’d win.

This 1981 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an electron micrograph of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV. Children’s hospitals in parts of the country are seeing a distressing surge in RSV, a common respiratory illness that can cause severe breathing problems for babies. Cases fell dramatically two years ago as the pandemic shut down schools, day cares and businesses. Then, with restrictions easing, the summer of 2021 brought an alarming increase in what is normally a fall and winter virus. (CDC via AP)
Alaska Voices: What Alaskans need to know about RSV

By learning more about respiratory illnesses and taking helpful actions, we can all take steps to improve the situation

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Multiplying the power of every local dollar given

Each community foundation is a public charity that focuses on supporting a geographic area by pooling donations to meet community needs

The Homer Public Library as seen on Aug. 18, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (File photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Point of View: Banning books corrodes diversity and inclusion in our community

Recently, a community member requested that a long list of books be removed from the children’s collection

Peninsula Oilers fans display encouragin signs for Oilers’ pitcher Bryan Woo, Friday, June 28, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: Judging judges — balancing the judicial selection process

Alaska’s method of selecting judges can be and should be improved.

Sarah Palin speaks at a July 11 Save America Rally featuring former President Donald Trump at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The realities of Palin’s political demise

Palin wouldn’t be running for the seat if Rep. Don Young was still alive

Former Democratic state Rep. Beth Kerttula holds up a sign reading “Vote No Con Con,” during a recent rally at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza in Juneau. Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: What can a liberal and conservative agree on? Voting against a constitutional convention

“We disagree on many issues. But we… urge Alaskans to vote against Proposition 1.”

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Down to the wire: Be prepared before you vote

Remember your voice counts and all votes matter

Soldotna City Council member Justin Ruffridge. (Courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: We must refuse to reward ugly political tactics

With our vote we have to show that extremism and dishonesty do not win the day