Compass: Parnell's Medicaid decisions hurt thousands of Alaskans

Alaska is not participating in Medicaid expansion--a decision made last November by the Parnell administration. If we had participated, a single person in Alaska making $18,580 or less or a family of four making less than $38,330 would qualify for Medicaid. The costs of the first three years and 90 percent for the following years would have been paid by the federal government. As a result of Parnell's decision, an estimated 40,000 Alaskans remain uninsured with poor access to primary health care.

Aside from the thousands of Alaskans who would have benefited directly from primary medical care access, Alaska's health care infrastructure would have been vastly strengthened. Over the next seven years Alaska would have seen $1.1 billion in new federal revenue for Alaska, 4,000 new jobs, $1.2 billion more in wages and salaries paid to Alaskans, and $2.49 billion in increased economic activity throughout the state.

To placate his critics, in November Parnell announced that he was establishing a Medicaid reform advisory committee, chaired by the person who has been managing the program for the last 3½ years. It took Parnell four months to name the committee. Though he has charged it with issuing a report two weeks after the November general election (and after budget decisions are typically made by the governor), it has yet to hold its first truly public meeting. Parnell already has two advisory bodies whose purposes appear to be strikingly similar to this committee's: the Medical Care Advisory Committee and the Alaska Health Care Commission. Perhaps the main difference is that his reform committee includes four present or former elected officials, none of whom have health care backgrounds, but who may know a thing or two about politics. One test of this committee will be whether Medicaid expansion is one of the reforms it is permitted to consider.

In the meantime, the Parnell administration has tried to bolster its rejection of Medicaid expansion by minimizing the number of people who need coverage. Commissioner of Health and Human Services Bill Streur earlier this week suggested that the number of people who truly lack access is between 10,000 and 12,000, but admits that his department does not truly know the demographics.

This is contrary to the conclusion of the Lewin Group's report, a report commissioned by the Parnell administration, which estimated there would be a net increase of approximately 40,000 Alaskans if the program were expanded. The Lewin Group's conclusion reinforced by a similar conclusion reported last year by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium which estimated that 41,500 uninsured Alaskans, including 15,700 Alaska Natives, would have access to Medicaid coverage as a result of the expansion.

At the same time, the Parnell administration touts its financial support for local medical centers, though it does not explain that the funding is largely for targeted education efforts (like cancer awareness) that comes from a variety of sources, including the federal government, but does not cover the cost of primary medical care.

The Parnell administration has declared that "by 2025 Alaskans will be the healthiest people in the nation and have access to the highest quality, most affordable health care." Current circumstances suggest that this lofty goal may be as fleeting as "choosing respect."

Byron Mallott is a Democratic candidate for governor.