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Federal Health Care Deadline Rekindles Alaska Medicaid Dispute

Published On: Mar 18 2014 09:38:57 PM AKDT   Updated On: Mar 18 2014 09:45:31 PM AKDT

By Reporter Corey Allen-Young.  (KTUU-TV)


With the clock ticking for Alaskans to pick a Health Care plan before the March 31st deadline, federal officials are in Alaska making a final push to encourage more people to sign up.

When it comes to health care plans, James Smallwood has seen a lot in five months.

A local insurance broker who runs BenefitMi Health Care Advocates, Smallwood has been helping Alaskans navigate through the Health Insurance Marketplace since it opened in October. 

Despite initial glitches and delays, Smallwood says things have been going a lot more smoothly as of late.  

"I notice that the response time is a lot faster -- you're not holding as long," Smallwood said.

Even with the rush of Alaskans moving to sign up before the March 31 deadline, there are concerns from the community that no matter what, some Alaskans won't have access to health coverage. They blame Gov. Sean Parnell's decision to deny Medicaid expansion in Alaska, which would cover single adults who do not get a Medicaid benefit because they do not care for children.

"There is so many other states that have taken advantage of this opportunity, and we know that there are over 41,000 people who live in Alaska -- in every single community in our state -- who would really benefit," said Valerie Davidson, with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it has reached out to Parnell to talk about Medicaid expansion and funding.

"This is fully paid for three years," said Susan Johnson, the director of HHS's Region 10 which includes Alaska. "This is Alaska's money coming back to help Alaskans that the state is refusing to accept."

Parnell's spokesperson, Sharon Leighow, says state Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Streur is currently working on identifying gaps in services for adults who don't qualify for Medicaid and are not eligible for cost sharing in the federal exchange. 

Leighow says the gap analysis will help state officials identify adult health care needs and the current services available to them, then evaluate the need for additional services. 

She goes on to say the analysis will also help inform health care policy moving forward.

But Smallwood says moving forward is hard for the people he's trying to get insurance for, who miss out on eligibility requirements by just a few thousand dollars.

"I suggested to one client that if you work maybe an extra hour a day, an extra two hours, you might be able to at least qualify," Smallwood said. "It's a disheartening thing where you have to tell someone, 'I'm sorry, I won't be able to get you coverage at all; I can't help you out with Medicaid, and I can't help you with your health insurance period.'"

Parnell is not the only state lawmaker who opposes Medicaid expansion. Fellow Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Sen. John Coghill (R-Fairbanks) say that the federal government could end up going back on its promise, and the state would be stuck with the whole bill.