We are lifelong Alaskans who have worked for decades in Alaska as health care providers. We have seen firsthand the difficulty and real suffering people experience without health care coverage in Alaska. Lack of health insurance means people cannot get care to prevent small problems from developing into serious medical problems, leading to chronic illness, disability and death. Before Medicaid expansion in 2015, we saw many patients with advanced disease that significantly impacted the quality of their life, their ability to work and pay their bills. All providers have seen these patients die for lack of preventative or maintenance care. We cannot abandon these Alaskans.
We believe we are a merciful society that does not want our friends, neighbors and family to succumb to complications of treatable diseases because of a lack of health care coverage. The governor’s veto of Medicaid funds is taking from the most vulnerable in our state, and the Legislature must vote to override it.
Only 35% of private-sector employers in Alaska offer health benefits to their employees. Almost 30% of Alaskans rely on Medicaid health coverage. Of the 215,817 Alaskans under Medicaid health coverage, 93,946 are children, 15,107 are people with disabilities who receive critical care that helps them live independently, and 11,200 are seniors, including those in nursing home care and using services that help them live at home.
Aside from the moral imperative we as a society have to care for those vulnerable, Medicaid just makes economic sense for everyone. It is incredibly expensive for non-urgent care to be provided by emergency rooms because people lack access to affordable care. Those unpaid hospital costs result in higher costs for all of us. Since Medicaid expansion in September 2015 to November 2018, Alaska has spent $42.3 million and received $1.13 billion in federal Medicaid funds. According to research by Jonathan King of Halcyon Consulting Group, Alaska’s Medicaid spending of $42.3 million has produced more than $2 billion in economic output. Reversing Medicaid insurance expansion would result in 3,700 lost jobs, a $267 million loss in annual labor income and a $556 million loss in annual economic output.
Allowing this veto of Medicaid funds to stand is just bad moral and economic policy. The Legislature needs to override it for Alaska’s health.
Dr. James E. O’Malley, MD, is a general surgeon, and Elizabeth Belgard O’Malley, RNC, ANP, is a nurse practitioner in Anchorage.
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