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JUNEAU– Governor Bill Walker Tuesday transmitted legislation to provide health care coverage to up to 42,000 low-income Alaskans, reform Medicaid, and bring more money into the state.
“As Alaskans, we have a long tradition of caring for each other when times are tough,” Governor Walker said. “This proposal will save money and save lives. It provides health care for more Alaskans using less state money. It’s the right thing to do.”
(1) Takes advantage of available federal resources by accepting an estimated $146 million in federal Medicaid expansion money; and
(2) Lays out the governor’s plans to reform the state’s Medicaid system to ensure the program is affordable over the long term.
The bill makes health coverage available through Medicaid to Alaskans who earn about $20,314 or less ($9.76 per hour) or married couplies who earn $27,490 or less.
“Governor Walker and I have heard from so many Alaskans about their inability to get the health care they need,” Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson said. “We all have an interest in ensuring that Alaskans are as productive as possible and can contribute to our communities and economy. But people can’t work, hunt, or fish when they are not healthy.”
Through 2016, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs for newly covered Alaskans. After that, the federal match transitions to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond. The savings to the state will more than cover our match.
Access to health care means improved health outcomes and increased productivity and independence. More Alaskans will get preventive and primary care, including behavioral health services and help in managing costly chronic diseases.
Business owners will benefit because of reduced turnover and fewer lost work days due to employees with unattended illnesses and injuries. Reductions in uncompensated care will help keep a lid on insurance premiums.
Dozens of Alaska organizations and local governments, and thousands of individual Alaskans have expressed support for federally funded Medicaid expansion coupled with smart reforms.
An estimated 42,000 Alaskans will become eligible for Medicaid under the bill, and 20,000 Alaskans are expected to sign up the first year, according to Evergreen Economics, the state’s longtime Medicaid consultant.
The bill is expected to bring $146 million in new federal money to Alaska in FY 16, the equivalent of about 10 percent of the state’s FY 16 capital budget. The money is expected to generate an estimated 4,000 jobs and $1.2 billion in wages and salaries. It will reduce the state’s FY 16 general fund budget by $6.5 million.
“We pay for health care one way or another,” Governor Walker said. “Alaskans pay into the federal treasury and this is a practical way to build our health infrastructure using federal money.”
The governor’s bill makes Alaska’s participation contingent on the state’s match not exceeding 10 percent. Governor Walker received a letter from U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell confirming that Alaska can opt out with no penalties if the state match goes above the 10 percent written into federal law.