Alaska Editorial: KidCare compromise

This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

When Gov. Sean Parnell vetoed an expansion of Denali KidCare in 2010, he said there was one reason he’d changed his position from support to opposition — KidCare funds included medically necessary abortions.

He said he couldn’t do anything about the legal requirement to cover abortions under current limits, but he could prevent the expansion of such services. He’s also said that if such an expansion arrives at his desk again, he will veto it again.

Given that reality, Anchorage Faith and Action — Congregations Together, a group of 14 churches that works for a better community, tried to figure out a way to get care to more kids that the governor could back.

Their solution is simple. Expand Denali KidCare, but only for children from birth to age 12. That, with the possible rare exception, takes abortion out of the issue.

Their spirit is admirable. AFACT member Annette Alleva of St. Anthony’s Parish pointed out that the congregations range from those who support the governor’s stand to those who think his veto was flat wrong. But, she said, the members decided that the goal of providing more coverage for the children of working Alaska families who cannot afford health insurance should come first. If a compromise to help more children and families could be found, they’d join hands to pull for it.

What they’ve found should find favor in the governor’s office.

Their proposal would raise the qualifying limit for Alaska families to 200 percent of poverty level, which is the national standard and the original Alaska standard. However, coverage from the 175 percent to 200 percent level would be limited to children from newborn to 12. Angela Liston, AFACT staff director, said states have latitude in setting eligibility limits. While Alaska cannot restrict funding for medically necessary abortions — and the definition of medically necessary if left up to doctors and patients — Alaska can set other limits that, for practical purposes, keep abortion out of the expanded coverage and satisfy the governor’s objections.

Any legislation would need vetting to make sure Alaska didn’t run afoul of legal issues or federal guidelines.

There would be contradictions in a program that provides abortion services to most of its clients but not all, and the proposed expansion would still leave teens and pregnant women — including those trying to bring healthy babies to term — out of coverage if their families make more than 175 percent of the poverty level. That’s salt, not balm, for some Alaskans in need. Like most compromises, this one isn’t perfect.

But this one also would increase by hundreds the number of children in the most vulnerable age group who would qualify for immunizations and preventive medical and dental care. Low birth weight babies would have coverage for intensive care; more parents would get educated to provide for the children’s health.

The original expansion is better. But this one is better than no expansion at all.

Gov. Parnell should have no objection to such a proposal. Other lawmakers, like Sen. Kevin Meyer, have said they support expanding Denali KidCare beyond Alaska’s nearly lowest-in-the-nation participation but can’t back more abortions. Now the way is clear, and the governor should take the lead. He’s backed Denali KidCare before. Here’s a chance to do it again, and to do some genuine good for Alaska children.

The governor should respond to a good faith effort for Denali KidCare.

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