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Note from Rep. Les Gara
Note from Rep. Les Gara  
Medicaid Expansion: Facts & A Capitol Building Lecture Sponsored By An Outside Group That Opposes It.
Note from Rep. Les Gara

March 3, 2015

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Dear Neighbors:

Last week I wrote on the Walker Administration's proposal to accept $145 million in Federal Funding for Medicaid Expansion in Alaska this year.  That Op-Ed follows and explains how accepting Medicaid Expansion, as many Republican and Democratic Governors have, will save state money, cut our state budget by $6.6 million (in just this coming year), create 4,000 needed jobs, and grant medical care and insurance payment help to thousands of Alaskans.  In Alaska we don't turn down federal road funds because they bring jobs and needed infrastructure.  We likewise shouldn't turn away over $140 million in federal funds that will save the state money, help our economy, and get people medical care.  You can find that Op-Ed at the bottom of this newsletter.

Here's where things get odd.  

In an Alaska Legislature that often says we don't care what outsiders tell us to do, we are oddly going to hear from, well, a Florida speaker on whether to accept Medicaid Expansion.  We've had a lot of detailed Alaska analysis on this issue.  I guess we'll see what she has to add, though she seems to be strongly affiliated with groups lobbying for states not to accept Medicaid Expansion, and the medical care, budget savings and jobs that come with it.  I'm willing to be surprised if she doesn't knock the Governor's effort this Wednesday. 

This is what we do know from newspaper reports and research, and the flyer announcing Christie Herrera's presentation.  

According to the flyer announcing her presentation, the speech is partially sponsored by a corporate-funded outside group that just opened an office in Alaska, with the nice-sounding name," Americans for Prosperity."  That group is actively working to block Medicaid Expansion in Alaska and other states.  The group is funded in large part by the politically active Koch Brothers, who fund a number of political causes, political campaigns and who earned their billions running mostly oil, gas and energy sector companies in the Lower 48.  They are now among the nation's largest election spenders, and favor candidates who support their corporate interests.  They plan to spend roughly $900 million on the 2016 election.  New York Times, Jan. 26, 2015 ("Koch Bros. Budget of $889 Million for 2016 is on Par With Both Parties' Spending")

Ms. Herrera seems to have, like many Americans, her own political leanings.  That's fine but we should all recognize them while hearing from her.  She is a former policy analyst who worked for Washington, D.C.-based ALEC, a corporate funded political group whose donors include Exxon, drugmaker Abbott Labs, Shell Oil, and dozens of other Fortune 500 and multinational corporations. http://projects.propublica.org/alec-contributions/ 

She now works for a Florida political group called the "Foundation for Government Accountability," which doesn't fully reveal who its donors are.  According to a report on the group by the Tampa Bay Times, a "partial list" of donors that have been made public show "ties to other Koch-supported foundations or Koch family enterprises." Tampa Bay Times, Feb. 4, 2012 ("New Think Tank's Veil of Transparency").

Like Ms. Herrera, I have views on issues that affect you.  Here is an Op-Ed I wrote last week on this subject.  May the better position win out this legislative session.

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Governor Walker, like other Republican and Democratic Governors who have hopped on board, is right that accepting Medicaid Expansion will save Alaska money and cut our budget deficit.  Turning away an opportunity to get ill people medical care, and cut the budget at the same time, would be a wasted opportunity. 

Here's a reality check as we look at budget cutting options.  Given the fall in oil prices, the budget deficit is so large that you could fire EVERY state employee and still have a roughly $1.5 billion deficit.  Cutting government waste alone won't fix the budget gap, and we need to also take advantage of smart opportunities like this.

I agree with the Governor that we can't afford to turn our noses at $28 million in budget savings over the next four years.  Accepting Medicaid Expansion will provide treatment to people who are ill and can't afford treatment, and bring us over $140,000,000/yr. in federal funds to Alaska that will ripple through our economy.  Turning away the 4,000 new Alaska jobs that would be created, when Alaska is facing a potentially serious economic hardship, makes little sense if you are looking to protect the economy. 

How does Medicaid Expansion save Alaska money? 

First, the Federal Government will pay 100% of the cost of expansion, until after 2020 when it becomes a permanent 90% federal match to cover these costs.  That's all instead of the normal, much smaller 50% federal Medicaid match.  Even at 90% federal funding, Medicaid Expansion will continue to cut our budget gap. It would be a classic political bungle to delay, and miss the early years of 100% Federal Medicaid Coverage.

How will this cut Alaska's budget deficit? 

Accepting Medicaid Expansion will bring federal funding to cover medical care the state now pays 100% to cover.  For example, current Medicaid generally doesn't cover you unless you are pregnant or have children.  Expansion brings coverage to adults with no children.  This will reduce alcohol and substance abuse treatment costs the state currently pays with state dollars, prisoner medical costs we currently pay with state dollars, and other costs the state fully foots to cover adults without children. 

And Medicaid Expansion requires mental health coverage parity – so we will receive needed alcohol, drug and mental health treatment funds the state now covers.  That saves us money, saves families agony, puts fewer children into expensive, potentially damaging foster care, and makes our streets and homes safer.  When Alaska receives federal road funding with a 90% federal match all legislators jump at it because road maintenance, and the infusion of federal funds, creates jobs and provides better roads.  Accepting  90 – 100% federal funding to get people medical care, create jobs, and qualify more people for federally funded private insurance subsidies just makes sense.

And there's a cost-saving bonus for people with private insurance.  Alaskans with private insurance will benefit when hospitals no longer have to pass the high costs of uninsured patients to the rest of us.  

Let's be smart.  As a Democrat, I'm happy to work across party lines with the Governor.  I hope some of the undecided or recalcitrant members of the Governor's own party will also agree, so we can work together and do the right thing for Alaska and our budget woes.

As always, let me, or my aides Joe and Molly know if we can help, or if you have any questions.

My Best,

[signed] Les Gara

 

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