The conservative group Americans for Prosperity, backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, recently opened an office in Anchorage. They’re working to convince elected officials to support their vision of smaller government. And one of their main priorities this legislative session is defeating Medicaid expansion.
Americans for Prosperity opened up it’s Alaska office in early August to help elect Dan Sullivan to the U.S. Senate. It’s one of 34 chapters across the country. And state director Jeremy Price says the group is here to stay:
“This is a long term effort to promote economic freedom.”
The office has four staff members right now and Price expects that number to grow soon. Stopping Medicaid expansion tops the group’s legislative agenda. Americans for Prosperity led a successful campaign to defeat a Medicaid expansion bill in Tennessee this year, even as the state’s Republican Governor supported it. Price is hoping for the same success in Alaska:
“We think this is a huge issue that will have monumental impacts on the state budget for years to come.”
Medicaid expansion would allow low income childless adults to have health coverage. It’s funded by the federal government at 100 percent through next year, and then the match rate gradually decreases to 90 percent in 2020.
So far, Americans for Prosperity’s campaign against expansion in Alaska has been relatively quiet. The group held a reception at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau last month, where Fox News contributor Guy Benson made the case against expansion. Price says about 10 lawmakers attended.
In Tennessee, the group launched an aggressive radio ad campaign that asked constituents to join the fight against “expanding Obamacare.” Price won’t say if they’re planning a similar campaign in Alaska:
“I would say all of our tools are on the table and it will be kind of a wait and see approach…. We’ll take it day by day.”
Price says Medicaid expansion may seem like a good deal for the state, but it comes at the expense of taxpayers. He says the state can’t afford the program, even at the generous federal match rate because Medicaid already eats up too much of the state budget. Price also argues the federal government will abandon its funding commitment. Republican lawmakers hit on all those themes at a legislative hearing on expansion earlier this week.
David Guttenberg, a Democrat from Fairbanks, spoke in favor of Medicaid expansion at the hearing. He says Americans for Prosperity is interfering in the rights and health of Alaskans:
“Go home, go back to where you came from. Go back to your billionaire funders. The conservative movement now relies on Outside interests, Outside think tanks to tell them what to do, tell them how to vote and clearly there’s way too much of that.”
It’s an argument Jeremy Price is defensive about. He grew up near Fairbanks. Two other workers in Americans for Prosperity’s Anchorage office are also from Alaska. Price says 5000 Alaskans have identified with the group and many are ready to help get the group’s message out. He says the mission isn’t to convince the public something they don’t already believe:
“You can’t just come into a state, dump a bunch of money in and expect to have long term, lasting change. That doesn’t work. The only way this works is by engaging citizens on a grassroots level identifying issues that they care about, educating them on the perspective they may not be hearing and making sure those opinions and voices are heard in the assembly, the state capitol and in Washington.”
Price is planning to return to Juneau when the debate over Medicaid expansion heats up.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.