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My Turn: Medicaid expansion is right for Alaska

Posted: November 15, 2013 - 1:08am

No Alaskan should be without affordable, accessible health care and we should not miss any responsible opportunity to extend those protections to our citizens. Because of Congressional funding, 25 states and the District of Columbia have swiftly moved to expand Medicaid in their respective states. We should do the same. In Alaska, such an expansion means that up to 41,000 additional Alaskans will have health coverage they cannot now obtain.

Gov. Sean Parnell has opposed Medicaid expansion and has refused to release the study on expansion that his administration commissioned more than a year ago. However, an authoritative study by Alaska-based Northern Economics, Inc. (NEI) demonstrates that Medicaid expansion is right for Alaska. The data is so compelling that the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Corporation (ANTHC) and others have come out supporting Medicaid expansion in Alaska.

The NEI study shows that 41,000 uninsured Alaskans, many of them employed but with low income jobs, would be able to have health insurance. This would be a good thing for them, for their families, and for Alaska health care providers and businesses. When Alaskans without health coverage access health care, it is often through hospital emergency departments. When they cannot pay for that care, the cost is shifted to other payers, thus leading to higher costs and higher insurance premiums. Under the proposed expansion, Medicaid eligibility for children, pregnant women, seniors and the disabled would be protected.

There is another compelling reason to expand Medicaid: the new federal funding will help Alaska’s economy — more than $1 billion will flow into Alaska in the first seven years. Mid-range estimates show that by 2020 up to 4,000 jobs will be created and economic activity tied to the expansion could reach two and a half billion dollars. Healthy Alaskans in a healthy economy are critical to a healthy Alaska.

Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, North Dakota and other states have not allowed partisan ideology to erase an opportunity to improve the health of their citizens. We should not hesitate to join.

Our health care system, and our economy all stand to gain. Gov. Parnell must act so that thousands of Alaska families and individuals can receive timely and adequate health care.

• Byron Mallott is running for Governor of Alaska.

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