Health

Alaska Governor Sidesteps GOP-Controlled Legislature, Expands Medicaid On His Own

CREDIT: AP Photo/Becky Bohrer

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker

Alaska will become the 30th state to accept Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion, after Gov. Bill Walker (I) announced on Thursday that he will use his executive power to bypass the GOP-controlled legislature and implement the policy on his own.

Walker — a former Republican who has since become an Independent — has been advocating for Medicaid expansion for over a year. Implementing this particular Obamacare provision, which was ruled optional by the Supreme Court in 2012, would extend health coverage to an estimated 40,000 low-income residents in his state. Polling has found that the majority of Alaska residents agree with Walker’s position.

Nonetheless, Republican lawmakers have repeatedly blocked efforts to approve the expansion of the public health program, saying that low-income people need to take more personal responsibility for themselves.

“I think in this time, in these lean years, it’s time for communities to pull together, it’s time for churches to step up, it’s time to help give a hand to each other as individuals. We can be kind as people. It’s not government’s place to be kind,” State Rep. Shelley Hughes (R) said in reference to uninsured Alaskans when the House voted down Medicaid expansion in March.

Now, Walker has had enough. In a press conference on Thursday, the governor said he will move forward with Medicaid expansion even without the legislature’s approval.

“This is the final option for me — I’ve tried everything else,” Walker said. “Thousands of Alaskans and more than 150 organizations, including chambers of commerce, local hospitals, and local governments, have been waiting long enough for Medicaid expansion. It’s time to expand Medicaid so thousands of our friends, coworkers, neighbors, and family members don’t have to make the choice between health care or bankruptcy.”

Across the country, Obamacare opponents have continued to block this provision of the health care reform law, a move that’s leaving millions of poor Americans without any affordable insurance options whatsoever. Many GOP lawmakers cite financial concerns about the program, even though the federal government will pick up the majority of the cost of expansion.

Pro-Medicaid governors have become increasingly frustrated with their legislatures that stubbornly refuse to expand the program. Last summer, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced similar plans to find a workaround to GOP resistance and extend coverage to additional low-income residents (though he’s so far struggled to advance that plan). In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich (R) fought for months with members of his own party to implement the policy, describing assistance for uninsured Americans as a moral imperative. Slowly but surely, the policy is now starting to gain momentum in GOP-controlled states.