Older Alaskans deserve an expanded Medicaid

Governor Sean Parnell’s refusal to expand Medicaid that would cover 41,000 Alaskans is a bitter pill for older Alaskans. Of the 41,000 people who would have gained health coverage under this opportunity, over 11,000, or nearly 30 percent, are between the ages of 45 and 64. These individuals who are aging but not yet eligible for Medicare are left in a precarious spot if they don’t have other insurance coverage.

These are people we know. They are helping to raise their grandchildren or nieces and nephews. They cannot work full time because of health issues, but they are not considered fully disabled. They don’t have insurance through their job, or jobs. Then there are the parents whose own resources are depleted because they are helping their adult children with medical conditions they cannot afford.

As those of us who are aging know, we are at a point where we have a higher risk for developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes, which rages to near epidemic proportions in Alaska. People who have health coverage are able to access preventative services as well as ongoing disease management. This is not only good for the individual, but for all of us, as fewer people would seek uncompensated care through emergency rooms, which increases costs that we all pay.

One of the most uncaring aspects of Parnell’s refusal to cover Alaskans is the thousands of people who are completely left out of any option. Those with incomes over 100 percent of the poverty line could buy a subsidized policy on the Exchange if they can afford it. However, according to the state’s own study done by the Lewin Group, about 20,000 adult Alaskans are too poor to qualify for subsidized insurance through the Exchange. You can be sure that many aging Alaskans will fall into this left behind group.

Of course, Medicaid expansion would also bring enormous positive effects to our economy just as we are looking at some large downturns. The state’s own report highlighted how the significant increased health care spending will generate job growth in our state and the benefits to hospitals and providers when more people are covered. A Northern Economics report quantifies this. It estimates more than $1 billion will flow into Alaska in the first seven years. There could be up to 4,000 new jobs by 2020 with economic activity tied to this activity worth $2.5 billion dollars.

The negative impacts on public health and ignoring the economic boost as a result of refusing this expanded care should be unacceptable to all of us. Alaskans deserve better – we all deserve health care and a healthy economy.

Democrat Byron Mallott is running for Governor.