Anchorage NAACP backs Medicaid expansion

Tegan Hanlon

Anchorage NAACP joined a number of Alaska organizations when it announced its support on Wednesday for Medicaid expansion, while Gov. Sean Parnell remains undecided on whether to adopt that part of the new federal health care law, according to officials.

Parnell initially rejected the expansion that would provide some 40,000 uninsured Alaskans with health care coverage for the first time. But Parnell said he will reconsider asking the Legislature for funding in December when he submits his next budget.

During the past few months, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Anchorage Faith & Action -- Congregations Together and the state Chamber of Commerce have spoken out, published pamphlets and passed resolutions in support of Medicaid expansion.

"Alaskans have the right to health care regardless of political affiliation," said NAACP president Wanda Laws. "It's not a privilege. It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or Republican when you get sick."

Vicki Penwell, 55, said she drove 300 miles from her home near Nebesna in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve on Wednesday to deliver a petition to Parnell's office. It contained more than 1,400 signatures from people in favor expanding Medicaid.

"It's not just these professional organizations, it's also just common, everyday Alaskans who support the expansion," Penwell said.

The federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of the costs for the first three years of expansion and decrease support to 90 percent by 2020. Alaska joins 23 other states that have rejected expansion and turned down the funding.

"Governor Parnell remains concerned that the federal government cannot meet its commitment," according to his spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said.

She said Parnell just received a report last week on the costs of Medicaid expansion in Alaska. The report, prepared under a state contract, was delivered to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on April 12. The Parnell administration has refused to release it to the public.

For now, Parnell "continues to analyze the data and potential financial impacts on Alaska," Leighow said.