News Politics

Governor of Alaska Denies Kids and Teens Health Care Because of His Fears of Abortion Funding

Robin Marty

A new proposal offers to expand income eligibilty for Denali care, but only for those too young to get pregnant.

In 2010, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell refused to approve an expansion of Denali KidCare, a program that provides health care for low-income pregnant women and children, even though a $1 million expansion paid for by the state would have resulted in nearly twice that much federal funding in return. Denali KidCare covers approximately 8,000 kids in need in Alaska, and with the matching funds, an expansion could have resulted in coverage of an additional 1,277 children and 225 pregnant women.

Moreover, an estimated 18,000 children across the state are uninsured but currently are ineligible under current state criteria. According to the Juneau Empire, Sen. Bettye Davis is proposing that the state expand eligibility from 175 percent of poverty level to 200 percent — but only for those age 12 and under. (The average across all states for eligibility is 241 percent of the federal poverty line.)

Why the age limit and all the wrangling? Why almost two years later is the state still fighting over expanding KidCare?  

Because, according to Davis, it is the only way “to avoid the pregnancy and abortion concerns.” 

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This situation underscores the hoops Alaska lawmakers must jump through in order to accommodate their governor’s zealous anti-choice stance. Governor Parnell rejected federal matching funds because he was afraid money from the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) could be used to cover abortions in Alaska. He claimed “hundreds of abortions” were funded by the program, a claim the Alaska Department of Health said can’t be completely confirmed. Alaska’s own state children’s health insurance program allows for funding of “medically-necessary abortion” due to a Supreme Court ruling stating that abortion must be covered if other pregnancy-related services are covered. So the governor is rejecting funds that could expand health care in his state based on fear of funding a legal medical intervention his own state allows.

So now, program eligibility is being re-written to create exclusions centered around the arrival of puberty, so the governor doesn’t need to worry about money possibly being used for an abortion, even though the abortion exception is already so narrow it only applies to cases to very few cases.  Teenagers of both sexes, as well as pregnant women, are being excluded from accessible primary health care simply to appease anti-choice zealotry. 

Why not go a step further, and allow all teen boys, and all teen girls who haven’t yet begun to menstruate, to be able to apply for KidCare, too? Perhaps girls could be asked to prove whether they are or aren’t having their periods yet in order to receive medical assistance? 

It appears not to bother Governor Parnell that the health and lives of born children living in his state are being held hostage to political hysteria.

News Health Systems

New GOP Kentucky Governor Wants to Undo the State’s Health-Care Gains

Teddy Wilson

Bevin's victory leaves in doubt the future of the program that provides health care to more than 400,000 low-income residents.

Newly elected Kentucky governor, Republican Matt Bevin, may be poised to eliminate health care for thousands of the state’s low-income residents after he defeated Attorney General Jack Conway on Tuesday.  

The gubernatorial campaign focused heavily on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the state’s expansion of Medicaid. Bevin promised to dramatically scale back the state’s kynect program, which expanded health-care access. Bevin’s victory leaves in doubt the future of the program that provides health care to more than 400,000 low-income residents.

“I’m proud of the fact that this is a great night for Republicans in Kentucky and, more importantly, a great night for conservatives in Kentucky,” Bevin said in front of a crowd of supporters, reported the New York Times. Bevin added, “We have a lot of work to do.”

Bevin won decisively, defeating Conway, 52.5 percent to 43.8 percent, after narrowly winning the Republican primary in May by 83 votes.

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The victory comes less than two years after Bevin waged an unsuccessful primary campaign against U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.

Bevin’s wealth and campaign style earned him comparisons to Republican presidential candidate billionaire Donald Trump. However, the policies he has promised to implement as governor are comparable to Republican governors such Kansas’ Sam Brownback and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who have focused efforts on eliminating health-care access to low-income families.

The central issue of the campaign was the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA through the kynect program, which Bevin called “a disaster.”

The program has been widely praised as a success, and it has been credited with reducing the uninsured rate in the state from 20.4 percent in 2013 to 11.9 percent in mid-year 2014. Kentucky’s 8.5 percent drop in the uninsured rate over the past two years is more than any other state with the exception of Arkansas.

Bevin said that if elected he would repeal Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive order expanding Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. “Absolutely,” Bevin said. “No question about it. I would reverse that immediately.”

Bevin’s proposed plan is to transition residents on Medicaid through kynect to the federal health insurance exchange by 2017, when the federal subsidies are reduced.

The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid in the state, and beginning in 2017, federal funding will decrease to 90 percent. Kentucky’s expansion of Medicaid created a $15.6 billion economic impact as well as nearly 17,000 new jobs across the state, according an analysis by the state health department.

Bevin has expressed an ideological opposition to Medicaid expansion. During a debate in May, Bevin said that there are too many “able bodied, working age people” who are “taking advantage” of the government benefits.

“We’ve got to stop subsidizing poor decisions,” Bevin said, reported the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Stop subsidizing those who are able to take advantage of a situation and of a system that we literally cannot afford to continue.”

The elimination of the kynect program is just one of an assortment of conservative policies Bevin will seek to impose as governor. He has also pushed implementation of so-called right-to-work laws designed to crush labor unions, and has promised to “lead the charge” decreasing taxes and regulations on businesses.

Bevin, who became Kentucky’s first Republican governor since 2003 and just the second Republican to hold the office since 1971, may soon have the GOP majorities he needs in the state legislature to implement his agenda.

The Republican gains in Kentucky are just the latest in two decades worth of defeats for Democrats throughout the South, and leaves only Virginia with a Democrat in the governor’s mansion.

Kentucky is the only Southern state in which Republicans and Democrats each control one chamber of the state legislature. Republicans hold a massive 27-11 majority in the state senate, while Democrats maintain a slim 54-46 majority in the state house.

However, the control of the state house may now be in doubt.

“This changes the dynamics,” state Senate President Robert Stivers told the New York Times. “Instead of having one leg of the stool, we now have two legs of the stool—and the third leg is very weak.”

News Health Systems

Alaska Governor Will Expand Medicaid Without State GOP’s Approval

Nina Liss-Schultz

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker on Thursday announced that he will accept federal money to expand Medicaid in the state, despite the objections of the Republican-majority legislature that sought to limit health-care access.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker on Thursday announced that he will accept federal money to expand Medicaid in the state, despite the objections of the Republican-majority legislature that sought to limit health-care access.

His decision makes Alaska the 31st state, including the District of Columbia, to expand the public health insurance. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month in favor of a key provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) opened the door for governors to expand health care under the law in the face of intense and long-lasting opposition from Republican-dominated legislatures.

Walker, a Republican-turned-Independent who made Medicaid expansion a priority during his 2014 gubernatorial bid, had tried working with the Alaska legislature on the issue. He first included an expansion proposal in his 2016 budget proposal, and when that was removed, he introduced a Medicaid expansion bill.

“Alaska and Alaskans cannot wait any longer,” Walker said in a statement announcing expansion. “This is the final option for me. I’ve tried everything else.”

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Expanding Medicaid in the state will give coverage to as many as 42,000 low-income Alaskans, half of whom would enroll in the first year, according to state estimates. It will also save the state money—$146 million the first year of expansion, according to the Governor.

Based on recent Medicaid enrollment numbers, the state’s prediction may very well be low. Medicaid enrollees have far surpassed initial estimates in more than a dozen states. In both Kentucky and Illinois, the number of new Medicaid enrollees, 311,000 and 623,000, respectively, was more than double what the states had projected.

Medicaid eligibility changes in Alaska could take effect as early as September 1. Under Alaska law, Walker had to give 45-day notice to the state’s Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, which he did on Thursday. The committee can issue a recommendation whether to accept federal dollars for Medicaid, but Walker said on Thursday he has the authority to move forward with or without the committee’s approval.

Of the 29 states that had expanded Medicaid under the ACA before Walker’s announcement last week, ten have Republican governors and only five have Republican legislatures. Montana and Indiana lawmakers also decided to expand Medicaid this year.