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Alaska Chamber supports Medicaid expansion

Posted: October 25, 2013 - 12:10am

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Chamber is supporting Medicaid expansion in the state under the federal health care law, as long as the federal government continues to match funding.

Gov. Sean Parnell has expressed concern the federal government could renege on its promise for funding much of any expansion. He said earlier this year that he would revisit the issue as he drafts his next budget, which is due in December.

“He is analyzing the costs the state currently incurs for all health care services and the actual number of Alaskans who have no access to health-care services,” his spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said in an email to the Anchorage Daily News (http://bit.ly/17fuJOm ).

The chamber listed Medicaid expansion as one of its top five state priorities for 2014. The list devised during a meeting last week also includes maintaining the oil tax cut passed during the last Legislature and increasing natural resource development through more efficient permitting.

Chamber president Rachael Petro said about 150 of the group’s 700 members attended the meeting. Karen Perdue, chief executive of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, called the vote favoring Medicaid expansion overwhelming.

She said if Alaska doesn’t expand its Medicaid program, Alaska businesses and individuals with health care policies effectively will be paying for its expansion in other states through federal taxes and other revenue sources built into the law.

Studies indicate up to 40,000 uninsured Alaskans would be eligible for Medicaid if the program were expanded.

Petro said chamber members weren’t necessarily happy with the law but wanted to work with it. Members also said the state would benefit from millions of dollars of new federal money, she said.

Perdue, a chamber member who served as Health and Social Services Commissioner under the Tony Knowles administration, said Medicaid expansion “is not only the right thing to do, but it should prevent some of the ‘cost shifting’ that goes on now.”

Cost shifting is when a low-income patient can’t pay for hospital treatment and adds up to about $200 million a year in Alaska, Perdue said. That loss is reflected in higher costs to the insured.

She said Medicaid expansion would mean hospitals would collect $30 million to $60 million more in paid bills and also result in lower overall costs because more Alaskans could visit a primary care doctor instead of the emergency room.

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