ALASKA: Governor gets tired of GOP legislature jerking around 40K people, expands Medicaid via executive order

Well, this is certainly welcome news (and a bit unexpected) (h/t to Robin Simpson):

Alaska Governor Sidesteps GOP-Controlled Legislature, Expands Medicaid On His Own

Alaska will become the 30th state to accept Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion, after Gov. Bill Walker (I)announced on Thursday that he will use his executive power to bypass the GOP-controlled legislature and implement the policy on his own.

Walker — a former Republican who has since become an Independent — has been advocating for Medicaid expansion for over a year. Implementing this particular Obamacare provision, which was ruled optional by the Supreme Court in 2012, would extend health coverage to an estimated 40,000 low-income residents in his state. Polling has found that the majority of Alaska residents agree with Walker’s position.

Even better, unless I'm missing something here, it sounds like this would be "true" Medicaid expansion--that is, it would simply bump up the eligibility threshold to 138% of the federal poverty level for any state resident not already eligible at that rate, as opposed to the clunky, overcomplicated "GOP-flavored" Medicaid programs in Arkansas, Indiana and other states which put all sorts of extra provisions/requirements on enrollees, complicating the process.

Here's more from Alaska Dispatch News:

Walker said he notified a legislative budget committee Thursday of his intent to accept federal money to pay for the expansion. The committee, the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, has the authority to review requests for Alaska to accept federal money when the Legislature isn’t meeting, Walker said in his prepared statement.

The committee’s chair, Anchorage Rep. Mike Hawker, was one of many Republicans who opposed Walker’s efforts to expand Medicaid during the legislative session earlier this year.

Lawmakers put language in this year's budget to block Walker from accepting money for Medicaid expansion, but two legal opinions -- one from the executive branch, and one from a legislative attorney -- say that move likely violates the Alaska Constitution.

It sounds like there could be some legal challenges ahead, but hopefully the'll get shot down...and in the meantime, presumably up to 40,000 Alaskans will find some heathcare access for a year or two while the process plays out, anyway.

Interestingly, the Kaiser Family Foundation has the "Medicaid Gap" estimate for Alaska at just 10,500 (which itself is reduced from their 17,000 estimate back in October 2013), so I'm not sure whether the actual potential number is closer to that or 40K, but I don't suppose it matters much; the point is that another bunch of low-income people will get covered.

On a big-picture scale, either number is too small to make a dent in the 3.7 million still in the Medicaid Gap nationally, but it does drop the number of holdout states down to 20.