Last week, Gov. Bill Walker announced he would use his constitutional authority to expand Medicaid in Alaska. A lot of the debate has focused on how this will give more than 40,000 Alaskans access to health care, but there is another reason why I support the governor's action. It's good for business.
One of the things I experienced in my first session in Juneau was that a group of people could work together on a complex issue, listen to many points of view, and then come to a decision that most members of the group agreed with. On the House Health and Services Committee we were presented with the governor's Medicaid expansion bill. Our committee listened to many hours of testimony from state agencies, experts, business leaders and the public.
We heard that this bill would bring jobs, help the economy and improve the health of Alaskans. In the end the bill was passed out of committee 6-1 with strong bipartisan support. I thought that this bill had a very good chance to become law if it came to the floor for a vote.
One thing that I learned was that a good bill with bipartisan support sometimes never sees the light of day simply because some of the powers that be decide they don't want to give it a chance. The expansion bill then went to the finance committee where it was shelved without even being voted on. The bill should've at least been voted on to see if the majority of elected representatives were in favor of it or not. After all, we were elected to tackle the tough issues, not ignore them.
Expansion will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds, which is cash flow that Alaska very much needs right now. Our oil revenue is in a major slump, and we don't have a viable alternate source at this time although we've talked about needing one for decades. Medicaid expansion will also allow the state to use Medicaid money to cover health care costs for prison inmates, which the state currently pays, resulting in millions of dollars in savings. It will also provide care for many recently released prisoners, some of whom can only receive health care if they're incarcerated. Many prisoners are more in need of mental health care than prison and can receive this with Medicaid expansion. We don't want to build any more prisons.
Expansion will also add jobs to the economy; not just well-paying health care jobs, but also spinoff jobs created by the boost that these health care jobs create. More money into the economy will only help, especially in Fairbanks. Instead of losing population we could reverse that trend.
Alaska is on the brink of a recession and now is the time to accept hundreds of millions of dollars and upwards of 90 percent Medicaid funding for a population of Alaskans that work hard and whose good health will keep Alaska moving forward. Expansion will provide a better source of funding to help those hardworking Alaskans that need it the most. As a small business owner, I have had to purchase my own health insurance most of my adult life. Prior to the passing of the Affordable Care Act, I often was rejected due to pre-existing conditions or had to pay very high premiums for very minimal coverage with huge deductibles. I know what it's like to not have insurance and not be able to go to a doctor when you think you need it while knowing that a major health issue could mean bankruptcy.
As a small business owner, I know that there many hardworking Alaskans that don't earn enough to qualify for the federal subsidies offered by the ACA. A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce, and expansion will provide benefits across our economy.
We accept federal funds on many other projects such as roads and airports, projects that benefit all Alaskans. The acceptance of this Medicaid funding will benefit all Alaskans.
Gov. Walker was faced with the question of whether or not to bring hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy, create thousands of Alaskan jobs, and lower the budget deficit while giving over 40,000 Alaskans access to health care. I'm glad he made the right decision.
Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, was elected to the House in 2014. He has been a small business owner for more than 30 years.
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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