Gov. Walker Medicaid Bill tries new strategy in Alaska

The Gov. Walker Medicaid bill looks to expand Medicaid via legislation with less than a month left in the legislative session.

This week Governor Walker introduced legislation in both the House and the Senate that would expand Medicaid in Alaska. Previously, the Governor insisted on expanding Medicaid through the budget; But, after the House of Representatives passed his budget proposal without Medicaid expansion, pursuing separate legislation is the Governor’s only option.

Last week Senator Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks) introduced his own Medicaid bill that aims to make significant changes in the current system, but with no mention of expansion.

In addition to expanding Medicaid, Governor Walker’s bills, SB 78 and HB 148, also intend to reform the current system. The legislation instructs the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) to:

“Evaluate and implement meaningful medicaid reform measures, including working with tribal and community partners to develop innovative practices leading to a sustainable Medicaid program available for future generations”

The bills also instruct DHSS to apply for federal Medicaid Waivers to address “Choice, statewide compatibility, or other core requirements,” while also taking regulatory action to improve compliance with Medicaid rules.The specifics of these reform proposals are left up to DHSS.

This is in stark contrast to Senator Kelly’s reform bill, which includes very specific policies such as personal health savings accounts, and managed care. Language in Governor Walker’s bill alludes to these types of reforms, but is far less prescriptive.

One other significant part of Governor Walker’s bill is that it instructs DHSS to develop a proposal for a provider tax by the beginning of the 2016 legislative session. The state anticipates over $24 million in revenue from federal Medicaid funding if expansion moves forward. After 2017 Alaska will be responsible for up to 10 percent of the cost for the expanded Medicaid program. This provider tax proposal is intended to offset those costs.

Both bills have been referred to their respective chamber’s Health & Social Services Committee, where they face a tight timeline for passage before the legislative session’s scheduled conclusion on April 19th.

HB 178 will be granted a hearing on Tuesday, March 24th at 3:00pm, with public testimony accepted on Thursday the 26th and Saturday the 28th. SB 78 has yet to be scheduled for a hearing in the Senate.