Gov. Sean Parnell announced at a press conference that he would for the time being decline federal funds that could provide more than 40,000 Alaskans health insurance.
That’s more people than live in Fairbanks, the state’s second largest city.
He said that although those who currently don’t have insurance are “real people and their health matters,” providing them such would only create a “culture of federal dependency.” Too, and this seemed his larger point, he did not want to be part of a system that could be viewed as supporting ObamaCare, which he called a “hot mess.”
Although it’s hard to argue that it’s not a “hot mess,” it’s also pretty clear that it’s going to be a hot mess with or without Alaska’s involvement. In fact, the money that we would receive from the feds –about $2.5 billion in additional economic activity and 4,000 new jobs in the next seven years –will just go to other states.
There will not be any savings to our federal treasury.
As the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, which supported expansion, put it: “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.”
Then again, not accepting the funds might make a nice campaign slogan as Parnell eyes a future federal office and as he knocks on the door of conservative political groups like Club for Growth, as he did in 2008.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on the governor. Perhaps he denied as many as 40,000 Alaskans health insurance out of real conviction and of real fear for Alaska’s financial future and for increasing government dependence. But if that’s the case, then I would challenge him to refuse other federal funds, like money for highways that will continue to be upgraded, or any number of other federal dollars that pour into the state.
Or, perhaps, he could take a hard look at the increasing number of state workers he’s hired since being elected, and the more than $700 million the state is paying for those health care costs.
Alaska is one of only four states where many of its state workers, including the governor and the legislators, don’t have to pay any monthly premiums, premiums that cost about $1400 per person a month. I’ve not once heard Parnell address this issue.
During the press conference, Parnell promised to work on solutions to address the healthcare needs of the poor. One of those solutions was to convene a commission to study the issue. That commission has a year to report back. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which has also supported expansion, said that it was “skeptical that the Governor’s promised solutions can be developed and implemented soon enough to avoid further suffering for uninsured Alaskans.”
Aside from this, and a few other releases It’s unclear if the groups that have advocated expanding Medicaid, have any fight in them aside from issuing press releases expressing “disappointment.” The hospitals, the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, and numerous other groups, including Alaska Native groups, have all lobbied hard to expand the program, and I’ve been told that many of them feel defeated.
It’s also unclear which, if any, politicians are going to make this a serious issue in their campaigns. Sen. Mark Begich sent out a release that seemed to lack any fire. Bill Walker, who is running as an independent against Parnell, was reading the state issued report when I called and wasn’t ready for comment. No word yet from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallot, who has been for expansion, though his campaign said he is working on it.
I’ll be publishing responses to Parnell’s decision later this evening.
So far, the only very clear voice of condemnation belongs to the chair of the Democratic Party, Mike Wenstrup, who called the decision “unconscionable.”
Then again, Wenstrup has nothing to lose.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org