Alaska governor to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare

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Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) on Thursday announced that he will expand Medicaid under ObamaCare. 

With the move, Alaska will become the 30th state to accept the expansion. After the White House’s victory on ObamaCare in the Supreme Court last month, President Obama said he will renew pressure on the remaining Republican-controlled states to expand the program. 

Walker, elected in 2014, campaigned on Medicaid expansion, but was met with opposition in the Republican-controlled legislature. On Thursday, though, he announced that he will go around the legislature and expand the program even without its approval. 

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Walker sent a letter to a legislative committee informing it of his decision and starting a 45-day clock that will allow the program to begin Sept. 1. He said that even if the committee rejects his decision, he has the statutory authority to go forward. 

“Alaska and Alaskans cannot wait any longer,” Walker said at a press conference. “We’re not going to step away from this opportunity to help fellow Alaskans, period.”

The federal government picks up 100 percent of the cost through 2016, but after that, the state contribution builds up to 10 percent, giving the legislature a chance to block state funds for the program down the road. 

“We’ll play that hand when it’s dealt to us,” Walker said.

“I can’t deny benefits to Alaskans today because we’re not sure about that 10 percent,” he added. 

Walker’s office projects that 20,000 people will sign up for coverage in the first year, and that the expansion will save the state more than $100 million over six years. 

The Obama administration has emphasized that it is willing to work with Republican governors to expand the program and make some compromises to put a conservative twist on the program. 

Indiana, for example, expanded Medicaid this year with a requirement that beneficiaries pick up some of the cost by paying premiums. The administration has so far held the line against work requirements for Medicaid assistance. 

Ten Republican governors have so far expanded Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor. 

“I’m going to work as hard as I can to convince more governors and state legislatures to take advantage of the law, put politics aside, and expand Medicaid and cover their citizens,” Obama said after the Supreme Court’s ruling last month. “We’ve still got states out there that, for political reasons, are not covering millions of people that they could be covering, despite the fact that the federal government is picking up the tab.”