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Dems introduce legislation to expand Medicaid

Posted: January 31, 2014 - 1:11am

House and Senate Democrats will push legislation this session to expand Medicaid in Alaska.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, told reporters Thursday that expanding Medicaid “makes sense both financially and morally.”

“Congress made a generous offer to the states when it agreed to pay 100 percent of the cost of expansion for the first three years and between 90 and 100 percent thereafter,” he said.

The bill includes a provision that would end Alaska’s participation in the expansion should the government decide to pay less the 90 percent of the cost. Wielechowski said the bill was a “compromise.”

Gov. Sean Parnell in November declined expanding Medicaid, which provides health care coverage for low-income families and individuals.

The House bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, said concerns that the state would have to end the expansion eventually because of decreased federal contributions were unfounded.

“The argument could be made, for example, about Social Security benefits. Are they going to be there for people?” Josephson said. “I don’t think it’s a way to plan a future; I don’t think it’s a way to run a government to say it’s a house of cards. It’s escaping the problem.”

Those with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty line — $19,279 for an individual or $26,279 for a two-person family — would be eligible for Medicaid coverage under the expansion.

House Majority leader Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said he’d not been approached about the bills before introduction but that he didn’t think it would appeal to
caucus members.

Rep. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, said she discussed the bill with a member of the minority briefly but that she didn’t think it was financially feasible. She said she was concerned about predictions that Medicaid and K-12 education would take up the state’s entire budget in the next 10 years and was wary of the federal government’s fiscal commitment to the expansion.

“Show me a program that the federal government has provided money for that they haven’t either decreased or taken away from us,” Costello said. “It’s hard to find.”

Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, said getting people jobs so that they could work their way out of poverty was a better solution to the “Medicaid problem.”

The governor’s spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said in an email that Parnell’s position on Medicaid expansion hasn’t changed since his announcement in November. She didn’t answer a question about whether the governor would veto Medicaid expansion legislation if it were to make it to his desk. She said Parnell was looking forward to a report that will be delivered by Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Streur on the status of those not eligible for Medicaid.

• Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/canfieldjenn.

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