Senator Calls On Governor To Expand Medicaid

A prominent Democrat in the state Senate is calling on Governor Bill Walker to expand Medicaid in Alaska without approval from the legislature. Anchorage Senator Bill Wielechowski says now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld insurance subsidies in Alaska there is no reason for the governor not to expand Medicaid.

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“It’s time for the governor to exercise leadership and just do it. We’ve got legal opinions saying he can do that and I think he should do that. I think that’s where Alaskans are, and that’s what Alaskans want,” he said.

According to two separate legal opinions written in May, Walker likely has the authority to expand Medicaid without legislative approval.

During this year’s legislative session and the special sessions that followed, Republican lawmakers blocked Medicaid expansion from coming to a floor vote. In May, the House Finance Committee declined to advance the Medicaid expansion bill, saying the state needed to reform Medicaid before expanding the program.

Polls show a majority of Alaskans support expansion. Wielechowski says when he met with Walker privately during the session he asked the governor to make the decision on his own.

“During session I had suggested to him that we would probably never run out of excuses from those who oppose it not to do it,” he said. “I felt that at some time he was going to have to do it on his own and so I did express that to him.”

Through a spokesperson, Governor Walker declined to discuss the issue. When he took office, Walker said Medicaid expansion was one of his top priorities.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kasier Health News.