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Democrats Pressure State to Release Medicaid Expansion Study

By Grace Jang, Investigative Reporter, gjang@ktuu.com
Published On: Oct 22 2013 07:00:00 PM AKDT
(img1)Medicaid expansion part 2

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -

 Earlier this year, Yudee Kim quit her job to help her mother run their family restaurant, Corea Blue, in the Russian Jack area.

“She's getting older and she can't do everything on her own,” said Kim, a 30-year-old, who gets by on tips. “You know, it's family. You make sacrifices for family, and it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.”

The Kim family pays for doctor visits out of pocket.

“My mom doesn’t go much,” Kim said. “My dad has diabetes so he goes quite often.”

Kim also can’t afford health insurance, so she pays cash for medication to manage her thyroid condition.

She’s one of more than 41,000 Alaskans whose healthcare would be covered if the state expands Medicaid.

The state spent nearly $80,000 to hire The Lewin Group, a Virginia-based contractor, to look into the potential effects of expanding Medicaid.

That was nearly a year ago.

“We started making requests for this document back in March,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), who is among nearly 10 people and organizations that have asked for the report. “In August, we put in a Freedom of Information Act request for this document after we weren't getting anything. We were denied.”

Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together also asked for the report and was denied.

Gov. Sean Parnell said he is also waiting for the report.

“I haven't seen it yet,” Parnell said. “I'm asking more and more questions to dig deeper than what I'm hearing the report did.”

Meanwhile, Alaska Chamber voted last week to make Medicaid expansion a top priority. The chamber is comprised of about 530 organizations, including AARP, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

“If Alaska chooses not to expand Medicaid, Alaska businesses and every single insured Alaskan will pay twice,” said Rachael Petro, the chamber president. “We will pay through all of the new revenue mechanisms under the Affordable Care Act and we will also pay through increased premiums and healthcare costs.”

Patrina Davis said Medicaid coverage would have helped manage her diabetes when she lost her job earlier this year and “ran into the situation of 'Do I go to the doctor and get medication or do I feed my children?’”

When the uninsured need emergency care, health officials say we all eventually cover the costs.

“Everyone, if they can pay or not, is served,” said Karen Perdue, who heads up Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. “That means the hospitals cover about $200 million a year in Alaska for people who cannot pay for services.”

The governor rejected Medicaid expansion for this, but has until December 15 to decide whether to expand the program for next year.

“I’m weighing what the state pays now and whether adding another layer of government program is really in the state's interest,” Parnell said.

As pressure mounts on the health and social services commissioner to release the Medicaid expansion study, the only insurance for Alaska’s working poor remains in the hope they stay healthy.