How Medicaid expansion affects Alaskans

In the midst of a nationwide opioid abuse spike, states that chose to expand Medicaid said the program has offered critical assistance. Preventative behavioral care also benefitted.

For perspective, the Empire asked Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson about the effects on Alaska.

Q: How does Medicaid Expansion contribute to behavioral health services?

Davidson: Medicaid Expansion has already paid for more than $25.5M in behavioral health services to Alaskans.

Q: Why is this critical?

A: Most, if not all of the more than 30,000 Alaskans included in the Medicaid Expansion would not previously have been able to access affordable, on-going behavioral health services, and many were relying on our state’s emergency rooms to care for them when in crisis. Medicaid Expansion has provided a more comprehensive, affordable, and sustainable way for Alaskans to receive critical mental health care.

Q: How does Medical Expansion contribute to combating the opioid epidemic?

A: A key element to reducing the impact of the opioid addiction epidemic is connecting Alaskans to addiction treatment resources. Since September 2015, Medicaid Expansion has paid for more than $25.5M in behavioral health services to Alaskans, including addiction treatments. If Medicaid access is reduced or limited through a block-grant funding model, many of the Alaskans most in need of treatment resources will find themselves unable to afford them.

Q: How does Medicaid Expansion benefit criminal justice reform efforts?

A: Many Alaskans are eligible for Medicaid Expansion upon release from a correctional facility. This health care coverage provides continued access to treatment services and prescription medications that a person may have accessed when incarcerated. Continued access to these critical health care services provides another important tool to help Alaskans avoid reincarceration. Working with re-entry coalitions and the Department of Corrections, we continue to streamline the application process to ensure there is no gap in health care coverage when someone is released from a correctional facility.

Q: What happens to these efforts if federal funding shifts to state responsibility?

A: Alaska is already dealing with a fiscal crisis and budget massive deficit, and is in no position to cover the increased costs that will arise from capping Federal funding and shifting the cost of providing Medicaid to the states. We would need to make some tough decisions on cuts to services and reduced eligibility for the Medicaid program.

Q: How many current enrollees would be affected by a working requirement?

A: Due to a couple of exclusions from the work requirement, the Department is unable to provide a number without further analysis.

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