This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
Alaska is one of 29 states facing a steep loss in federal money as Uncle Sam slashes the share of expenses it pays for Medicaid, the health care program for low-income residents. The feds have paid 57.58 percent of the bills; the new rate is just a hair over 50 percent. The change, if not reversed in Congress, will cost Alaska $69 million this year, and more in future years.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is taking the lead in trying to keep Alaska's higher aid level. It's a worthy endeavor but a tough sell.
After all, Alaska is already notorious for collecting a hugely disproportionate share of federal aid on many fronts. Our two "bridges to nowhere" are just the latest headline examples of the phenomenon.
And we can't very well play the "poor little ol' me" card. We've got $30 billion in the bank. As in other energy-rich states, unexpected money is gushing into the Alaska state treasury, thanks to $60-a-barrel oil.
But when you look at the details of the Medicaid reimbursement rules, Sen. Murkowski does have an argument to work with. A state's repayment rate is pegged to its per-capita personal income, and by that measure Alaska is doing better than the average state. However, the formula doesn't account for the cost of health care, and Alaska's costs are as much as 40 percent above other states'.
Redoing the formula to Alaska's favor takes an act of Congress, which is always a formidable task. With $69 million worth of good reasons to move quickly, Sen. Murkowski aims to include Alaska's fix in whatever other legislation is on the fast track to passage.
Alaska has long relied on the prowess of senior Sen. Ted Stevens to take care of the state's special needs in the Senate. He won't be around forever; Alaska will need our junior senator to emerge as a strong and effective advocate. Getting the Medicaid fix is an excellent way for her to show her mettle as a champion of Alaska's interests.