Thursday, senators began looking at a bill that would expand the Denali KidCare program to include more children. It is basically the same bill that passed the legislature in 2010 that he governor vetoed.
The Federal Government pays for seventy percent of Denali Kid Care as a health insurance program for children of low-income parents. When it was put in place in 1998, it covered families earning less than double the federal poverty level. That was lowered when Frank Murkowski was governor to the current one hundred seventy five percent of the poverty level. The bill would return the coverage level to two hundred percent.
The bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Anchorage Democrat Bettye Davis, says she’s looking for ways to make the measure more amenable to the Parnell administration — to avoid another veto.
“It does not mean that I want to change the focus of my bill. But there might be some things that we want to go along and do some legislation separate from the bill itself. The bill is just flat-out to increase it from 175-percent above the poverty level to 200. And that’s not asking for very much,” Davis said.
Davis told the Senate Health and Social Services Committee that by limiting the children’s health program to families earning the lower incomes, Alaska is near the bottom of all states, while more than half the states accept families at more than the 200 percent level.
“A state as wealthy as we are, I don’t see a reason why we should not be able to do that also. So for that reason, this is a priority of mine, to pass this bill so that we might be able to bring on approximately 1,300 children and 300 or less pregnant women,” Davis said.
Last year’s veto of the similar bill was based on the governor’s belief that by offering medical care to pregnant women, the program was used to pay for abortions. Opposition to the bill was based on that argument. Anchorage Doctor Ilona Farr charged that there is misuse of the program.
“Physicians take the Hippocratic Oath to prevent us from giving a woman abortive remedy. And our tax dollar should not pay for any procedure that kills the future children of Alaska. And that has to do with Medicaid,” Farr said.
However, June Sobocinski, of the United Way in Anchorage, told the committee that 100 percent of the agencies her organization works with had volunteered to lobby to get the bill passed. She encouraged legislators and the administration to work through the abortion issue to allow the bill to be enacted.
“Let us engage this question of abortion, but apart from this bill, which is about the health of children we already have. Let us find the appropriate context in which to grapple with that question. Let us hold harmless these 1,300 children and these up to three hundred pregnant women,” Sobocinski said.
Also supporting the measure, Elizabeth Ripley, executive director of the Matsu Health Foundation, based in Wasilla, said Alaska has seen a 30 percent decrease in the number of children covered by private insurance during the past decade, while the number of poverty level children is increasing. She said making the program available to more children would improve the general health level of Alaskans.
Senate Bill Five is currently in the Senate Rules Committee, where it was sent after coming up one vote short of passage during this year’s session.