Governor should support Medicaid expansion

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre traveled to Juneau on Thursday to testify before the House Health and Social Services Committee on the benefits of expanding Medicaid under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Navarre’s trip makes him the second area official — along with Central Peninsula Hospital CEO Rick Davis — to visit the state capitol to advocate for Alaska’s inclusion in the proposed Medicaid expansion.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly recently approved a resolution urging the governor and Legislature “to weigh heavily the great benefits that would accrue to the residents of the borough and to the borough economy while deciding whether to expand our Medicaid program.”

Although he has until 2014 to make up his mind, Gov. Sean Parnell has opposed the expansion, indicating he would not request funding or authorization from the Legislature this session as he is worried about the state of the federal government and its solvency.

That’s certainly an understandable stance to take considering the nation’s $16 trillion debt. However, whether we, or our governor, likes it the ACA is moving forward and health care reform is a reality.

So why close a door? Why leave a tool out of our tool box?

Our nation’s health care system is broken. It costs too much and too much of the system’s cost is placed on the minority of regularly-insured people.

“I actually think that Medicaid expansion is the conservative approach, if you can believe that,” Navarre said in Juneau on Thursday. “The health care system in the United States and the way it is delivered is simply unsustainable. We deal with it (at the borough). We are in negotiations with our public employee union and the biggest thing that we are negotiating is health care.”

Not participating in the Medicaid expansion would be counter to the health care reform’s goal of reducing health care costs, CPH’s Davis recently told the Clarion. The current high cost of health care is caused, in part, by patients entering the system through the emergency room and not the doctor’s office. That is to say uninsured people have little access to preventative care and become a high-cost patient sooner in life.

Navarre also touched on the rising costs of the area’s bad debt and charity care hospital services. Let’s get those people in the system so that we can keep them healthy longer and reduce these costs.

Our governor should be taking a proactive stance on health care reform and not dragging his heels. Alaska health care is rural, expensive and sensitive — we simply can’t afford to take hardball approaches.

Parnell should take a long hard look at the Medicaid expansion as we, and many other Kenai Peninsula and state officials contend it would lower costs and increase Alaskans’ health.

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