Walker asks Trump administration to protect people with pre-existing conditions

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker listens to a question from KTOO and Alaska Public Media reporter Andrew Kitchenman in his Capitol office in Juneau on Tuesday. Walker joined a bipartisan group of governors asking the Trump administration to reverse its position of not defending protections for those with pre-existing conditions in the individual health insurance market. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Americans with pre-existing medical conditions are protected under the current federal law in buying individual health insurance. But President Donald Trump’s administration says the protection included in the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker joined a bipartisan group of eight other governors in support of continuing the protection.

Listen now

Walker, an independent, has been working with the governors’ group over the past year on health care issues.

The Trump administration said on June 7 that it wouldn’t defend protections for people who have pre-existing medical conditions. Up to half of Americans have these conditions, such high blood pressure and high cholesterol. On Monday, the group called on the administration to work with the states and Congress on a solution.

“When we see that this is not being defended by the administration, it’s appropriate for us to comment and express our desire that this be taken seriously,” Walker said.

Before the Affordable Care Act, insurers could charge more from or deny coverage to people who were already sick. The law stopped that. It required all Americans to buy insurance. That’s because there was a danger of having those who were likely to need medical care disproportionately buy insurance. Congress eliminated a tax penalty for not being insured in a law passed last year. Texas and 19 other states sued to eliminate other provisions of the ACA, including the protection for those with pre-existing conditions.

The federal Justice Department decided against defending that provision. If the courts agree to eliminate it, Walker said he’d be concerned about the effect on Alaskans.

The governor linked his position with his broader support for expanding access to medical coverage.

“There are folks who will be without coverage,” Walker said. “And I think that’s why I accepted the Medicaid expansion. It has brought coverage to over 40,000 Alaskans.”

The bipartisan governors’ group was last in the news in February, when it first called on Congress and the administration to work on a health care solution that crosses party lines. They issued a blueprint that called for market stability, innovation and competition.

Walker said the group has gotten attention in Washington, D.C.

“The Congress and the administration were both very appreciative of the effort that we put forth to bring the governors together on a bipartisan basis,” Walker said, later adding: “At the end of the day, the governors have to deal with the health care issue, so we said, ‘Let us be at the table.’”

The statement said everyone in the country deserves access to affordable, quality health insurance. The governors said the administration decision to no longer defend the provision protecting those with pre-existing conditions is “disappointing” and adds uncertainty and higher costs.

The governors asked the administration to reverse its decision.

The other governors were Republicans John Kasich of Ohio, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Larry Hogan of Maryland, as well as Democrats John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Steve Bullock of Montana and Jay Inslee of Washington.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

Previous articleAccused of 2016 murders, Palmer man faces possible death sentence
Next articleASMI says Chinese tariff increase will not apply to secondary processing