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Our View: Parnell wrong on Medicaid

Medicaid decision

Governor chooses disrespect for thousands of Alaskans

Gov. Sean Parnell had a chance to help as many as 40,000 Alaskans to secure health care insurance.

Instead, he gave them an advisory commission, a promise and a claim that Alaska can do better.

Parnell had a chance to rise above ideology and his own deep opposition to Obamacare and do what was best for Alaskans.

Instead, he took the opportunity to once again condemn Obamacare and use its woes as an excuse not to help Alaskans.

The governor had a chance to lead. Instead he chose to react.

On Friday, Parnell announced that he would not sign on to Medicaid expansion, citing the costs and his lack of faith in the federal government to keep its commitment about covering all of the costs for three years and 90 percent thereafter.

The governor seemed to be leaning the other way after several prominent Alaska organizations, from chambers of commerce to AARP, urged him to reconsider his opposition. No doubt President Obama's bogus claims about who could keep their policies and the wretched performance of the website emboldened Parnell, who wrote in his Sunday "Compass" that Obamacare is unraveling.

That may be wishful thinking on the part of Parnell, who has opposed Obamacare every step of the way. Clearly, Obamacare needs work. But Parnell's decision isn't about Obamacare. It's about his refusal to provide better access to health care for thousands of Alaskans.

That's real, that's available. Or was available, until Parnell said no.

The governor easily could have put safeguards in a decision to accept the expansion. Alaska's participation could be made contingent on the feds keeping their word on their share, giving the state freedom to opt out if Uncle Sam didn't follow through. That's what Republican Gov. Jan Brewer did in Arizona.

Parnell could have accepted this care for Alaskans and meanwhile set out to prove, rather than just claim, that Alaska can do better. Medicaid expansion is voluntary for the states. So take it until we come up with a better system, then make the transition.

He would have been putting Alaskans first, making sure they had swift, effective access to health care while he worked to do better than Obamacare. That's a position that Alaskans across the political spectrum could support: Do right by the people you serve, and then do even better.

Even if Parnell is right, that Obamacare is a "failed experiment" just waiting to die, how would it then hurt to provide even a few years of coverage for thousands of Alaskans? Yes, politically it would be hard to take that coverage away. But in the meantime, an Alaskan could get her child in to see a doctor, a bad tooth wouldn't have to become oral surgery. It's necessary to think in the long term. However, people live day by day, not by fiscal years and committee schedules.

Further, if the governor is serious about filling those gaps in Alaska's health care coverage, we wouldn't need to take coverage away. By mid-2015, according to his own timetable, we'd be on the verge of something better. Why make thousands of Alaskans wait? Why keep jacking up hospital bills and emergency room costs? Why turn down a tremendous return on investment and more health care jobs?

This was a reactionary decision, one that reflects a greater dedication to ideology than to the people of Alaska.

This was the wrong decision.

BOTTOM LINE: Gov. Parnell failed to put Alaskans first in Medicaid decision.