ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — As the race for gubernatorial race in Alaska heats up, incumbent Gov. Bill Walker on Thursday touted Medicaid expansion as a major milestone during his administration.
Thursday marks the third anniversary since Walker decided to expand Medicaid in the state, even after that proposal failed to pass the legislature.
“I accepted it unilaterally, under my authority in the constitution. I accepted Medicaid expansion,” Walker explained at a press conference held at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.
Walker says Medicaid expansion has given health insurance coverage to about 40,000 Alaskans.
“I think it’s about $900 million that we brought into Alaska to help pay for the uncompensated coverage, which helps us all because we’re paying for that uncompensated coverage in some way through our insurance,” the governor said.
The 2015 decision to expand Medicaid triggered a lawsuit from the Senate, which accused Walker of overstepping the legislative process. At the time, then-Senator Mike Dunleavy was one legislator who was critical of Walker’s decision.
“Both the process and the substance of the decision were flawed,” Dunleavy said in a written statement. “I want everyone to have affordable, quality healthcare. But when one third of Alaskans are forced to rely on Medicaid for healthcare, is that something we should be proud of? I say: this should worry us.”
Dunleavy, now running for governor himself, added that if elected his focus would be on helping more Alaskans find health insurance without government assistance.
“My focus as Governor will be on controlling the costs of health care, and health insurance,” he wrote. “I will NOT define success based on growing the number of people who are dependent on government, but rather on growing the number of people who have no need for government assistance in meeting their health care needs.”
The Walker administration eventually won the 2015 lawsuit, and there are many who still praise the governor’s decision to expand Medicaid.
“Medicaid expansion has made a huge difference not only for our patients but to our providers and the satisfaction of being a provider and really, truly being able to deliver healthcare at that level,” said Tammy Green CEO of the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.
In related news, Gov. Walker says negotiations are still ongoing between the Department of Health and Social Services and healthcare providers over $15 million in Medicaid overpayments issued as a result of a billing error. The department announced last month that it would seek to recoup the money from providers.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Mike Dunleavy “remains a vocal opponent of Medicaid expansion.” The story has been corrected to clarify Dunleavy’s position on Medicaid.