Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who ran as an independent candidate in last year’s gubernatorial race, said Thursday that the state would sign on to an expansion of Medicaid although Republican legislators had strongly opposed it.
Walker won the election last year on a platform based on the Medicaid expansion, but so far any attempt of convincing GOP leaders to join in failed miserably. So, he announced that he would do the move on his own authority.
He made the announcement in a press conference at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium office in Anchorage. If no one interferes with the plan, the expansion would be ready by September 1.
If the Governor succeeds, about 42,000 Alaskanas will benefit from Medicaid coverage. On Thursday, Gov. Walker also briefed the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee on his plans, although the legislature was out of session. He noted that he would be meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell next week.
“Alaska and Alaskans cannot wait any longer. This is the final option for me. I’ve tried everything else,”
the Governor added.
The move comes after months of negotiations with the state’s Republican-led legislature and pledges of enacting the plan through legislative measures.
According to the Affordable Care Act, any state must allow its residents who earn up to 133 percent of the official poverty level to benefit from federal money under a Medicaid plan. But two years after Obamacare’s enactment, the U.S. Supreme Court granted states the possibility of opting out of that requirement. Currently 30 states and the District of Columbia embraced Medicaid. Most of the other 19 states that refuse to enroll are located in the South.
In 2015, Montana also approved the expansion and currently awaits federal approval, which may be a lengthy process because the state requested that enrollees meet several conditions including paying monthly premiums, which is highly unusual for Medicaid plans.
This year, Indiana also joined in the program and received federal approval to use Medicaid money in a national program that co-opted private health insurers to provide health care coverage to poor residents.
Currently, President Obama tries to push Medicaid expansion in the states that stubbornly refuse to approve the program such as Tennessee and Utah. In both states, GOP-majority legislatures refused the governors’ proposals of adopting the federal program.
And that may be the fate of Gov. Walker in Alaska as well, when GOP lawmakers come back from vacation.
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