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Davis seeking support for health insurance program

Posted: March 26, 2012 - 11:13pm

JUNEAU — An Anchorage Democrat is seeking to build support for a scaled-back expansion of a health insurance program for low-income children.

Sen. Bettye Davis’ proposal would raise the income eligibility threshold for Denali KidCare from 175 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty line for children 12 years old and younger.

Davis had pushed to expand the eligibility threshold from 175 percent to 200 percent of poverty for low-income children and pregnant women, the original threshold for income qualifications before the program was rolled back.

She said this would have extended coverage to roughly another 1300 uninsured children in Alaska and 200 pregnant women.

But the measure failed in the Senate last year — a year after enjoying broad support in the Legislature — after Gov. Sean Parnell said he couldn’t envision a scenario under which he would support expansion of the program.

Parnell vetoed an expansion in 2010, saying the program paid for abortions. Parnell’s spokeswoman said Monday that Parnell’s office is reviewing the amended bill.

The Alaska Supreme Court has held that the state must fund medically necessary abortions if it funds medically necessary services for others with financial needs. Abortions funded through Denali KidCare would have to be deemed medically necessary by a doctor.

Davis said limiting expansion to kids 12 and younger is intended to avoid the pregnancy and abortion concerns.

She said some people have questioned whether she should go this route. But she said she felt that if she couldn’t compromise at some point she’s no better than those she’s criticizing for not working to make health insurance accessible to more children. She said a scaled-back version of her initial plan is the only thing she could think of that she believed could immediately get more kids covered, if it passed.

Davis said the latest version of SB5 isn’t where she’d like to be with coverage but is better than nothing. Given Parnell’s position, she said she didn’t think she could get the original bill through the Senate. She is now reaching out to senators to see if she’d have the votes to get the new version — which advanced from her Health and Social Services Committee last week — passed by the full Senate.

She said there are families who are struggling to make ends meet, who don’t have health insurance through work and can’t afford coverage on their own.

“That should be the reason why we want to do whatever we can to assist them, and we as a state can afford to do it,” she said in an interview.

Davis said that unless the governor or some legislators have a change of mind, it seems the only way forward is through a ballot initiative. She said it was too late for her to consider qualifying a measure for the ballot this year but she said it’s a possibility for 2014, the next statewide general election, if something doesn’t change between now and then.

If she pushed for an initiative, she said she seek to expand coverage to “at least 300 percent” of the federal poverty line.

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