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Health Commissioner: Expanding Medicaid a Huge Decision

Published On: Oct 24 2013 10:19:00 PM AKDT

Channel 2 News reporter Adam Pinsker hears from officials on both sides of the debate about expanding Medicaid in Alaska.

Health and Social Services Commissioner William Streur says the state of Alaska is still deliberating on whether to accept federal funds that come with expanding Medicaid. 

A study commissioned by the state on impact of expanding Medicaid was released in April, and critics say those findings should be made public.

“The intent of the study as we conducted it was not to give us a 'say yes or no.' The intent was to give us information to get our own reasoning to get us to a yes or no,” said Streur.

It’s a decision could affect more than 40,000 Alaskans who aren’t eligible for Medicaid and can’t afford to buy health insurance.  However, some state leaders say they’re unsure if the federal government can afford to bankroll Medicaid expansion. Governor Sean Parnell decided against expanding Medicaid expansion this year.

Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) urged the governor to take the federal expansion dollars, telling people at a town hall meeting Thursday, Alaskans pay some of the highest health care costs in the nation.

"25% of the state budget is federal dollars, 50 percent of the state's capital budget is state dollars, so if he doesn't think they're going to fund it, don't take any of that money," said Senator Mark Begich. 

"Medicaid expansion will be fantastic for Alaska,” said Policy Director of the Alaska Primary Care Association David D’Amato.  “It has the chance to serve 47-thousand people in Alaska, it has the multiplier effect of a billion dollars over the next 10 years.”

But state leaders are in no rush to make a decision

“It's a complex process because we don't want to burden generations after us with a cost of a stupid decision and so we want to be smart and deliberative in what we're doing,” said Streur.

Parnell could revisit the issue in December when he submits his budget for 2014.