AK: Interview with Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell – Part 3

Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell

Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell

State of Reform’s DJ Wilson sat down for an interview in early February with Mead Treadwell, Alaska’s lieutenant governor and a candidate in the Republican primary to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in November.

The interview, which Treadwell said is the longest interview on health care that he’s ever given, is broken into four parts.

Part one covers turning points in Treadwell’s life and career, including personal experiences that have influenced his views on health care.  In the second part of the interview, Treadwell discusses why he thinks the Affordable Care Act should be repealed. In part four, Treadwell discusses his campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Here, in part three, DJ asks Treadwell about his views on Medicaid expansion under the ACA.  Treadwell also discusses how his views on mental health were affected by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., which is where Treadwell grew up and his father was the mayor.

DJ: I want to touch on Medicaid briefly.  Do you have any question about Governor Parnell’s position on Medicaid?  Would you take a different tack in any way?  I assume the answer is no.

The answer is affirmatively no. I believe that the governor made the right decision. Now, it’s a two-part decision, you should know. He said that he was not oblivious to, and he very much has an ear to, the institutions that were looking for the additional money.  Most of it was, in some cases, our tribal health consortium gets federal money for this.

I would say that the uncovered number is not as large as the proponents of Medicaid expansion thought it would be, number one.  Number two, the flexibility that the governor has asked for with the federal government–we are going to continue to press for [that].  Number three, with the health care community in the state, the governor has asked for a task force to figure out how to cover the uncovered without subjecting the state to large, new numbers.

We spend well over a billion dollars in Medicaid right now in the state.  It has grown substantially since 1980.  It’s grown in a huge manner since 1980.  It’s one of the biggest elements in our budget.

The long and the short of it is, the governor was being very prudent and at the same time being very fair and acknowledging the needs people have and looking for ways to deal with them.  I’m looking forward to seeing what that task force comes up with.

DJ:  Looking at other states that have gotten some flexibility, are there particular models or particular experiments in other states that have informed how you think about state flexibility?

I’ve been watching Arkansas, as one example.  I’ve been watching Iowa.

The whole point here is that there’s lot of different ways we can come up with solutions that fit our individual situation and that the federal government needed to start without the arrogance that says that states don’t know how to do their job.  I think we do our job much better than they do.

DJ:  You mentioned you grew up in Newtown, Connecticut, and earlier you mentioned that you went to Sandy Hook Elementary, the site of the mass murder of 20 children and six adults.  My former high school had a shooting last week in Bend, Oregon.  What can we do around mental health care to help prevent tragedies like these?

Let me say this.  One of the things that I am so glad to have seen in my life is Mothers Against Drunk Driving change the culture.  They changed the culture so that you don’t really go to a bar and drink a lot and try and sneak home in a car.  Somebody else in the bar will take away your keys.  The bar may buy you a cab ride home.  We changed the culture in my lifetime.  It’s tremendous.

Another way we’ve changed the culture is intervention in the case of alcohol and drug abuse.  It used to be something where people hid it.  I lost my dad in a fire, but one of the reasons he died in that fire is probably because he had too much to drink.  He may well have started the fire.

I went back to Newtown and spoke last summer.  I said, “We have really got to think about acts of kindness more than acts of Congress.  We really have to think about how we reach out to that person who is detached from society and help them get help.”

I didn’t have this phrase then, in that speech in Newtown, but then I was visiting with our mental health providers in Alaska and a woman who is on the board of the Anchorage Mental Health Group said, “What we are really pushing for is teaching people mental health first aid.”

I went home and I looked it up. The fascinating thing about this is that mental health bouts of one kind or another – it can be anxiety or a drug or alcohol-related thing, it can be depression – may be as regular in this society as the flu. That stunned me, number one.

Number two, if something is as regular in this society as the flu then we’ve got to be as regular in this society in learning how to intervene as we have in getting a flu shot, or learning how to do the Heimlich or CPR.

The fact is that all of us have to learn to do that a little more.  For me, the Sandy Hook situation has hit me a large number of ways.  First off, Adam Lanza grew up in a house that was built in a field where I used to fire rockets and fly kites and model airplanes.

Part of it also comes down to an acceptance.  [Former U.S. Sen.] Tom Eagleton [D-Missouri] was thrown off George McGovern’s ticket in 1972 for Vice President because he had had treatment for depression.  I live in a state where depression is a huge challenge.  Some people can deal with it with SAD lights, some people can deal with it with vitamin D, and some people are not dealing with it very well.  We have one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

I do think there are things that we have to do.  One is much more in the way of mental health research.  I pushed very hard as chair of the Arctic Research Commission to get more help for our clinicians on suicide, for example.

I pushed very hard with Governor Parnell, pulling back the curtain on domestic violence, sexual assault and other trauma that tends to lend to depression, suicide and self-destructive behavior, behavior that hurts people.  After Columbine, my kids went through anti-bullying training. There was a case with a bunch of online bullying with my daughter, where I worked with other parents and the school to get it stopped soon enough.  I know that for some people those barbs stay with them the rest of their lives.

Those are more acts of kindness than big government programs.  I firmly believe that if we’re successful in the next decade, mental health first aid is going to be something that’s there.

I am proud of what Alaska communities have done.  Go to a small town like Petersburg and the city council—you know, a city council in a small town that’s trying to find money for the dump and the police station—puts money into community mental health.  They do it in Anchorage.  We’re doing it more and more in places around the country.  That’s the recognition that this happens.

I’m still stunned about what happened in Newtown, at the end of that quiet little cul-de-sac where I used to go to elementary school and nursery school.  Those innocent kids shouldn’t have been lost.

There’s much more we’ll do in the way of security, making sure that the gun laws we have work.  More importantly, we have to figure out how to get those people who would do something incredibly self-destructive and take others with them.  We’ll do that.  I don’t know about you, but there’s way too many of us now that experience friends who have taken their lives.  If you have a friend who has committed suicide, you go through a huge pang of guilt—you know, “why didn’t I know that he was depressed?”  And I think we have to learn to recognize that and help people get help.

If you’d like to read more, part one covers turning points in Treadwell’s life and career.

In part two, Treadwell discusses why he thinks the Affordable Care Act should be repealed.

In part four, Treadwell discusses his campaign for the U.S. Senate.