Alaska Governor Expanding Medicaid Despite Objections From Legislature

Alaska’s governor said Thursday he was using his executive authority to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act after failing to get the state legislature to sign off on providing the coverage.

Independent Gov. Bill Walker’s announcement seats Alaska as the 30th state to expand Medicaid coverage. The independent governor said his state could not wait any longer to accept the $146 million in federal funds provided under President Obama’s health care law.

The governor’s office predicts the expansion would provide health care coverage to more than 20,000 Alaskans within the first year of expansion.

“This is the final option for me,” Walker said at a press conference. “We are not going to step away from this opportunity to help fellow Alaskans, period.”

Jim DeMint, president of The Heritage Foundation, warned in a March op-ed for the Cincinnati Enquirer that while Medicaid expansion is attractive to states in the short-term, the long-term costs are detrimental.

DeMint wrote that medical providers are paid less under government health care programs, including Medicaid, causing providers to raise prices for those with private insurance. This “cost shifting” pushes patients who cannot afford the increased prices out of insurance or onto government coverage, straining state health care budgets.

“There are too many short-term thinkers in the health care debate,” DeMint said. “It’s time for proponents of Obamacare and the expansion of Medicaid to understand that they are anything but compassionate. They are dooming many Americans to second-rate health care.

Walker campaigned in 2014 with the goal of expanding Medicaid under his leadership. Alaska’s Republican-held legislature blocked attempts multiple times, leading Walker to assert executive authority to secure the federal expansion funds.

Walker said he sent a letter to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, giving legislators the required 45-day notice of his plan. The committee can make recommendations, but Walker said he has legal authority to move forward without its approval.

His office projects 42,000 residents are eligible for the coverage and that expansion would save the state more than $100 million in the first six years.

“It would be foolish for us to pass up that kind of boost to Alaska’s economy,” Walker said.

Walker’s announcement comes a month after President Obama vowed he would intensify efforts to persuade governors to accept the federal funds following the Affordable Care Act’s latest Supreme Court victory.

“We’ve still got states out there that, for political reasons, are not covering millions of people that they could be covering, despite the fact that the federal government is picking up the tab,” Obama said following the decision.

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