Alaskan Governor Sidesteps Legislature, Expands Medicaid Solo

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Alaskan governor Bill Walker announced on Thursday that he will be accepting the Medicaid expansion from the Affordable Care Act and using his executive powers to bypass ongoing legislative efforts to block the implementation.

The move is expected to add over 20,000 uninsured Alaskans to the program in the first year alone, and result in an additional $146 million in federal funds going to the program.

Governor Walker, an independent, took office in November 2014 and has made several attempts to implement the expansion, but these moves were blocked by the Republican-dominated state legislature. He describes the executive action as “[T]he final option for me—I’ve tried everything else.”

The Alaskan legislature is currently out of session, so the authority to review funding requests currently resides with the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee. Walker has delivered his proposal to the Committee and they have until September 1 to vote on their support for the proposal or to convene a special legislative session on the matter.

If Walker’s efforts succeed, Alaska will join the other 30 states that have already implemented the Medicaid expansion. It was these states Walker pointed to when advocating his position: “[The 30 states] have already made the commonsense decision to accept Medicaid expansion. Why? Because it helps their residents, their economies, and their budgets.”

Republican legislators have cited financial concerns as the reason for their prior blocking of Walker’s expansion attempts. In March, when one of the efforts was voted down, Republican representative Shelley Huges noted that the expansion removes responsibility from communities. After the vote, Huges explained: “I think in this time, in these lean years, it’s time for communities to pull together, it’s time for churches to step up, it’s time to help give a hand to each other as individuals. We can be kind as people. It’s not government’s place to be kind.”

A poll conducted by National Public Radio (NPR) of 663 Alaskans in March found that 65.1% supported the expansion.

Image copyright 2014, James Brooks

Sources for Today’s Article:

“Alaska Governor Sidesteps GOP-Controlled Legislature, Expands Medicaid On His Own,” ThinkProgress web site, July 16, 2015; http://thinkprogress.org/health/2015/07/16/3681554/alaska-medicaid-expansion/.

“Alaska Governor Says Will Accept Federal Funds to Expand Medicaid,” Reuters web site, July 16, 2015; http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/16/us-usa-alaska-medicaid-idUSKCN0PQ2SA20150716.

Moore, I., “GOVERNOR WALKER HAS SOLID APPROVAL, Expansion of Medicaid Popular,” NPR.org; http://media.npr.org/documents/2015/may/AK_poll_on_expansion.pdf, last accessed July 17, 2015.

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