Where We Are Now: Expanding the Medicaid Program in Alaska
Discussions in Alaska about expanding Medicaid continues to be a hotly debated topic. Recently, Governor Parnell announced his intention not to expand Medicaid in Alaska. Below is a brief synopsis of the timeline and activity highlights surrounding Medicaid expansion in Alaska as we understand it. Readers are welcome to comment on the blog to enrich the discussion.
To contribute to the public dialog about Medicaid expansion, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) commissioned two independent analyses, one from the Urban Institute and one from Northern Economics. ANTHC then summarized the findings from both and publicly released a final report, Healthier Alaskans Create a Healthier State Economy on February 1, 2013. The ANTHC summary reported that both analyses concluded that Medicaid expansion would contribute to improvements in the health of both Alaskans and the Alaska economy.
In April 2013, The Lewin Group of Falls Church, VA, delivered to Governor Parnell a final report that analyzed the impact of Medicaid expansion in Alaska. Efforts by legislators and others to review the report were unsuccessful.
On November 15, 2013, Governor Parnell announced that he would not seek to expand Medicaid in his FY2015 budget proposal. [Read the text from his announcement here.] However, he declared continuing interest in providing a sustainable safety net of health care services for vulnerable Alaskans.
To that end, he proposed the creation of a Medicaid Reform Advisory Group to address issues related to the Medicaid structure and to propose reforms to the state Medicaid program. The group is to meet three key health reform mandates: budget sustainability and predictability, efficient navigation by providers, and the inclusion of behavioral health treatment. The group is to deliver the report to the legislature for approval no later than November 15, 2014.
Also at the press conference, the Lewin Report was made available to the public.
Commissioner Bill Streur followed Parnell’s announcement with a statement in which he addressed planned improvements in the Division of Public Assistance communication plan targeting the most vulnerable Alaskans.
Governor Parnell’s decision not to expand Medicaid in Alaska was met with some criticism. For example, the Alaska Chamber announced its disappointment that Governor Parnell determined not to pursue Medicaid expansion in Alaska, which the chamber considers an “important part of the chamber’s goal of reducing or containing the cost of doing business in Alaska.”
Further, the Alaska Chamber reports, “As taxpayers, all Alaskans are subject to the increased federal taxes established to fund the new national healthcare law. If Alaska does not expand Medicaid, Alaskan’s taxes will pay for the uninsured in other states. The concern is that Alaska businesses and all insured Alaskans will bear even higher insurance premiums and health care costs to cover those uninsured.”