With Medicaid expansion, the chance for a fresh start

Kenneth Taylor at the New Life Development center in Anchorage. Photo credit: Annie Feidt
Kenneth Taylor at the New Life Development center in Anchorage. Photo credit: Annie Feidt

Alaskans have been able to sign up for Medicaid expansion for one month. Nearly 2,000 people have enrolled during that time.

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Kenneth Taylor signed up the first week and is anxiously waiting for his enrollment card.

Taylor has two types of cancer, in his kidney and his prostate. He’s also trying to manage several chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea and asthma.

Taylor used to be on disability, but then he got caught selling cocaine. He went to prison for almost three years and lost his benefits. Now he lives in a halfway house called New Life Development, where he works as a cook part time to help pay for the crowded room he shares with another resident.

He needs healthcare, but has no way to pay for insurance with his weekly paycheck of about $300. Before Medicaid expansion, Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, and their sliding fee system, was Taylor’s only option for care.

“I’m barely functioning, but I’m functioning and it would just take a lot of stress and tension off me if I did get approved for Obamacare for the simple fact of all day I think about, ‘how am I going to pay this bill? How am I going to get this medication? How am I going to get this one?'”

So during the first week of September, Taylor signed up for Medicaid expansion with help from an enrollment specialist at the health center. He hasn’t received his benefits card in the mail yet, but once he does, even his appointments in September will be covered. For Taylor, the chance to access specialty care again, to check if his cancer is still in remission, is a huge relief.

His doctor feels the same way. Jonathan Casurella is a family practice doctor who has worked at Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center for the past two years. He says before Medicaid expansion, he frequently had to tell patients they needed more advanced care he couldn’t provide.

“A very common conversation I would have on a daily basis would be, ‘You need further treatment I can’t provide for you for your condition and I need to refer you to another provider.’ They would respond that they can’t afford it, so they would just have to do without.”

Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center estimates about 4,000 of it’s patients are eligible for Medicaid expansion.

Casurella says getting them enrolled can help transform their lives. He says many of his patients have untreated or minimally treated conditions that prevent them from working.

“And they’re living off what they can afford and whatever support systems are available, whether through family members or the government. And to be able to get care for these patients, for them to be able to get the healthcare they need- they’re going to be able to go back to work.”

Kenneth Taylor’s goal is to stay clean. He’s been in and out of prison since 1985, and now, he’s determined to stay out. He’s following the rules, like taking a daily breathalyzer test.

He says having good healthcare will give him some peace of mind as he works to get his health- and his life back on track. In his words, it will give him the chance, “to do good instead of doing bad.”

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace.

Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon.

afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie