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Medicaid expansion can only be good for Alaska

As small business owners, we have to pay close attention to Alaska's economy. Our new governor, Bill Walker, has inherited a very challenging set of circumstances with budget deficits and falling oil prices. Fortunately, Walker's pledge to accept federal Medicaid expansion funding can play a key role in strengthening our economy while lowering health care prices. As business owners and managers, we strongly support Walker's pledge to expand Medicaid.

The Alaska Chamber of Commerce has already endorsed Medicaid expansion, and as small business owners we agree that it is vital for Alaska's economy.

Small businesses depend on a healthy statewide economy. When people have good jobs, they spend more money at local businesses. Conversely, state layoffs resulting from deficits or private sector job losses related to lower oil prices are bad for business. We face economic headwinds from these factors today, but there is something we can do about it.

According to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Medicaid investment would create some 4,000 new jobs and generate billions of dollars in new economic activity. At a time when we face economic challenges, we can't afford to pass up this money. Medicaid expansion is good for Alaska's economy, and it never has been more important to spur economic growth.

Medicaid expansion, funded with federal money, also will have positive impacts on our health care system and small businesses' bottom line. Approximately 41,500 Alaskans will become eligible for Medicaid when Gov. Walker fulfills his pledge to expand Medicaid. Many of these people don't have health insurance today, and when they go to the emergency room they increase insurance bills for the rest of us.

Small businesses have some of the highest health care costs, and part of those costs are caused by uninsured people. By expanding health coverage, Medicaid will lead to lower health care costs for small businesses like ours. Other states that have accepted federal Medicaid expansion funding already are seeing these cost savings, but Alaska missed out under the previous gubernatorial administration. We applaud Gov. Walker's position on Medicaid because we can't afford to miss out on health care savings for small businesses.

Finally, we support Medicaid expansion because it is the right thing to do. As small business owners and managers, we know that health care can be expensive. Many of us live and work with hardworking Alaskans who don't earn enough to afford high-priced health care. Nonpartisan studies suggest that Medicaid expansion will save hundreds of lives right here in Alaska with better health care. These are our friends and neighbors -- let's do the right thing and expand health care options for hardworking Alaskans who can't afford health care right now.

For a stronger economy, for more affordable health care, and to support our friends and neighbors, we strongly support Medicaid expansion as promised by Gov. Walker. It is the single most important step he can take to improve our economy and our health care system. As business owners, we applaud this important reform.

Scott Anaya (Crush Wine Bistro), Tod Butler (Tuffy's Painting), and Eric and Robin Smith (Arctic Rope and Wire) are small business owners in Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

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