Is Alaska Looking Into the “Private Option” for Medicaid Expansion?

Arkansas has figured out a solution for Medicaid expansion that might just work in Alaska. Arkansas wants to use federal Medicaid expansion money under the Affordable Care Act to enroll people in private plans on its health insurance exchange. Alaska’s Health and Social Services Commissioner, Bill Steur, is looking doing the same.

Nicknamed, the “private option” for Medicaid expansion, instead of enrolling low-income, uninsured people in Medicaid, Arkansas would buy them insurance plans on the state’s health insurance exchange. Streur thinks it makes a lot of sense:

“It’s an intriguing model. If we can get more insurance through this, we ought to at least be in open dialogue with the federal government on this.”

Streur says that he hasn’t yet discussed this option with Gov. Parnell, but he says Akansas’s plan addresses Parnell’s biggest problem with the expansion – that it leaves the state vulnerable to paying huge sums for the Medicaid program down the road.

The Medicaid expansion begins in January, with the federal government paying 100% of the program cost for the first three years. The federal government hasn’t approved the Arkansas model, but has worked with the state to draft the necessary waiver application.

The Medicaid expansion would offer coverage to about 50,000 uninsured, low-income Alaskans. Susan Johnson, Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says that the government is very open to negotiating with Alaska officials about what type of Medicaid expansion would work:

“It’s not just, I want an Arkansas model, it’s what is best for the state itself… So Arkansas may come up with elements that Alaska would like, but there would be particular elements for Alaska that will be different from Arkansas. It’s just that we need to start that conversation.”

Commissioner Streur says he hopes to deliver a briefing to Governor Parnell about the Medicaid expansion decision in October.