Speakers Make Case For Accepting Federal Money For Medicaid Expansion

Two speakers at an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce forum on Monday made the case for accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid in the state. They also asked chamber members to speak out on the issue.Last week, Governor Sean Parnell announced he won’t expand Medicaid in the state, at least for now. Valerie Davidson is with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. She was careful not to criticize the Governor’s decision, and was relieved he left the door open to expanding Medicaid in the future:

“Other states who have very conservative governors have made the decision to expand, because frankly it’s just too good a return on investment. Very small modest investment by the state yields pretty significant federal dollars. So I’m hopeful that as the Governor finishes his own analysis that that will point us to opportunities in our state as well,” Davidson said.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium commissioned two independent studies on the costs and benefits of the Medicaid expansion. They show the expansion would offer health insurance to 40,000 Alaskans and pump $1 billion into the state economy over the next 10 years. The federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of the expansion for the first three years and gradually transition to 90 percent by 2020.

Karen Perdue is President of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. She says the Medicaid expansion would help lower health care premiums for everyone in the state. That’s because fewer people would show up at hospitals unable to pay their bill. It’s called “uncompensated care” and Perdue says that cost is ultimately paid by people who have insurance.

“Who pays for the uncompensated care? A lot of times that cost gets shifted to private employers. So I do think we need to look at that. Not only would hospitals in the communities do better, but what would it mean for private employers,” Perdue said.

Perdue says the Governor should take as much time as he needs to understand the complex issue. The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a position yet on the Medicaid expansion, but expects to sometime this month.

Parnell says he plans to revisit the prospect of Medicaid expansion in December, when he rolls out his annual budget proposal.

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Annie Feidt is the Managing Editor for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KTOO Public Media in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49th state just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie