Unlike eight of his fellow Republican Governors who have put the interests of their residents ahead of party politics, Governor Sean Parnell is refusing to accept federal funds for expanding Medicaid to 37,000 needy Alaskans.
Although no fan of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Governor Chris Christie from New Jersey explains his decision to accept the Medicaid expansion in typical blunt language: “It is now the law of the land, and I will make all my judgments as governor based on what I believe is best for New Jersey.”
Governor Scott from Florida explained his rationale in an op-ed entitled, “A Republican Governor’s Rationale for Expanding Medicaid.” Here is the essence of his argument: “To be clear — our options are either having Floridians pay to fund this program in other states while denying health care to our citizens or using federal funding to help some of the poorest in our state with the Medicaid program as we explore other health care reforms.”
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said of her decision to expand Medicaid: “With this move, we will secure a federal revenue stream to cover the costs of the uninsured who already show up in our doctor’s offices and emergency rooms … Weigh the evidence and do the math. With the realities facing us, taking advantage of this federal assistance is the strategic way to reduce Medicaid pressure on the state budget.”
Did Governor Parnell do the math or just resort back to ideology for rejecting an expansion to be paid 100 percent for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter? According to the March 1 story in the Juneau Empire, Governor Parnell believes the dysfunction in Congress and the fiscal mess of going from ‘fiscal cliff’ to ‘sequester’ makes it too risky for the State to go forward with an expansion of Medicaid. He feels this way even though Medicaid is largely shielded from the sequestration cuts and the total cost to cover these uninsured once the federal government pays 90 percent instead of 100 percent would be $149 million up to the year 2022 according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
This additional is just 3.4 percent more than what Alaska would have spent on Medicaid in the absence of the ACA. This is a paltry amount when the Governor proposes a total budget of $12.8 billion for 2014. If the governor is so concerned about the uncertainty of federal funds in today’s political climate that he can’t risk such an inconsequential costs for including more Alaskans into Medicaid, then how does he square submitting a state budget that relies on receiving $2.9 billion from the federal government?
The hypocrisy does not end there. Governor Parnell noted in his press conference, “With Washington broken and broke, it just seems to me that Alaska has got to take care of ourselves and work smarter to secure its own future.” So is the governor proposing some alternative means for taking care of Alaska’s uninsured that show up in our emergency rooms? No. Instead, the only plan to take care of ourselves is for highly profitable oil companies to receive billions in tax breaks.
Rather than follow the lead of other Republican governors who are doing the math and then setting aside their conservative ideology for the good of their citizens, Governor Parnell appears to be on a course to establish himself as one of the nation’s most extreme right-wing Governors. And the logic he uses in justifying his decisions is full of inconsistencies. There is no even hand in the application of his fiscal principles.
For example, if you’re a school district struggling to maintain proven programs at increasing graduation rates above 70 percent, he wants more results before increasing the base student allowance for the first time in three years. But if you’re a big oil company, you don’t even have to commit to increased production before you get to fatten your profit margin. If the project is a ferry that has a cost overrun, it gets drastically altered. But if the project is a road or airport with cost overruns — no problem. It will routinely get adjusted for within DOT’s overall budget. Now we have one more casualty of Governor Parnell’s skewed, favoritism-driven application of conservative principles… 37,000 uninsured Alaskans.
• Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas.