JUNEAU -- Alaskans from every region of the state support expansion of Medicaid, said pollster Ivan Moore, putting new pressure on legislators who oppose expansion and say they are reflecting their constituents' views.
"Even in the most conservative, Republican areas of the state, Fairbanks and the Mat-Su, it's still 2-1 in favor," Moore said.
Moore's poll, part of his company's quarterly Alaska survey, showed 65 percent of Alaskans in favor of expansion, with 22 percent opposed. That's close to a poll conducted for the Republican-led House majority caucus a few weeks ago that showed 60 percent in favor.
Moore's numbers, however, show much less opposition than the 31 percent the House poll found. The two polls used different wording in their questions and were taken at different times.
Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, Thursday cited constituent opposition for his reluctance to support Gov. Bill Walker's call to expand Medicaid in Alaska.
"The people that I work for, the people who hired me, they're not there as far as Medicaid expansion goes," Neuman said.
Neuman said while serving in the Legislature, he doesn't represent his own interests but those of his constituents. "I'm their voice in Juneau," he said. He said he was personally opposed as well.
But Moore said his polling shows that Alaskans of all stripes support accepting federal funding for Medicaid expansion, regardless of where they live or other demographic factors.
Support for expansion was strongest in Southeast, with 76 percent in favor of expansion, and in rural Alaska, with 75 percent in favor.
Anchorage voters were 68 percent in favor of expansion, slightly above the statewide average of 65 percent.
The Fairbanks area had support of 59 percent, with Southcentral outside Anchorage lowest in the state at 56 percent in favor.
Moore's definition of Southcentral includes the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island, Cordova, Whittier and Valdez, he said.
Those not in support were divided between opposition and undecided, with support leading opponents by a wide margin all over the state.
In the Legislature, opposition to expansion is strongest among the Mat-Su delegation.
At the request of Alaska Dispatch News, Moore broke out Mat-Su ZIP codes for his survey results and found that even for that narrow group of poll respondents, 45 percent were in favor, 35 percent opposed and 20 percent undecided.
"It's probably the area of the state with the least support, yet again more people support it than oppose it," Moore said.
The Mat-Su Borough Assembly recently endorsed Medicaid expansion by a 5-2 vote, but legislators from their area have been the focus of opposition to expansion.
A number of legislators from both the left and right have said they hope, or fear, that expansion would pass in floor votes, though House and Senate leaders have said they'll use their majority organizations to block floor votes.
Thursday, Walker said he hoped to get a floor vote before the end of the session, and that he believed it would pass if it came to a vote.
House Speaker Mike Chenault said he accepted that the public may support expansion but was still raising questions about the Medicaid program in general, which he called "broken."
"I'm not saying that Alaskans don't want Medicaid expansion -- I believe that they do," he acknowledged.
But he said he was concerned about spending not just state money, but federal taxpayer money, on Medicaid.
"Our job is to make sure that we do it wisely, that we spend the money correctly and the program actually works," he said.
Several legislators have said that they could be persuaded to support expansion if reforms were put in place that would save the state money.
Moore said that support for Medicaid expansion not only crossed geographic boundaries but political, gender and age boundaries as well, with every subgroup supporting expansion.
As might be expected, self-described progressives showed 89 percent support for expansion with only 8 percent opposed, but they're a small portion of the voting population in Alaska. Moderates, the largest group, supported it 68 percent to 15 percent.
Most surprising may be the fact that self-described conservatives supported expansion by a 45 percent to 41 percent. In all cases the remainder were undecided.
"Even conservatives are on the balance in favor, and by the time you get to moderates they're strongly in favor," Moore said.
House Minority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said that if Medicaid expansion comes to the floor it is likely to pass because of the widespread and growing public support.
That's shown by first the House's own poll, and now the Moore poll, he said.
"I think legislators need to take another pulse of their districts to find out where people actually lie," Tuck said.
While legislative leaders said they'd like to keep studying expansion and reform options and discuss it again during next year's session, Walker said he'd like to see it done soon, even if he has to call the Legislature into special session.
"I'm inclined to do it immediately," he said, but would consult with legislative leaders about their preference before calling the session.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing