Two healthcare ballot initiatives for 2018 have been canceled

A pair of health care ballot initiatives seeking a place in Alaska’s 2018 election are dead for now.

On Monday, Healthcare for Alaska and Defend Alaska’s Care announced they are suspending signature-gathering efforts for the measures. The two groups are the sponsoring committees for the measures.

“Instability in national healthcare policy has made it unworkable for the citizen initiatives to be presented to voters in the near-term,” they said in a joint statement.

Under the guidelines provided by Alaska law, registered initiatives must gather 32,127 valid voter signatures before Jan. 16, 2018 in order to qualify for the fall primary or general elections that year. If signature-gathering extends past that date, they would appear on the ballot in 2020.

“We have decided to not pursue a strategy to face the voters in 2018,” stated Jordyn Grant, campaign manager for both groups, “but we may opt for a 2020 ballot if the national situation develops more clarity in the next year.”

According to financial documents filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the two groups accepted more than $230,000 in contributions — mostly from Outside groups such as the Washington, D.C.-based Fairness Project — and have spent or incurred debts of some $22,000.

The “Healthcare for Alaskans Act of 2018,” would enshrine Medicaid expansion in state law. In 2015, the Alaska Legislature declined to expand Alaska’s Medicaid coverage by passing a bill. Gov. Bill Walker subsequently expanded the coverage with an executive order. Some lawmakers sued, but a court sided with Walker, and the expanded coverage remains. A different governor could reverse that decision with another executive order.

The initiative was filed by Alan Gross, Graham Glass and George Rhyneer on Aug. 1 and would enact a law prohibiting less coverage than was in place on Jan. 1, 2017. That wouldn’t keep the Legislature from reducing coverage, but it would prevent a governor from reducing coverage through executive order.

The second initiative, called the “Quality Health Insurance for Alaskans Act of 2018,” was filed by Gross, Rhyneer and Megan LeMasters Soule. It would put the most popular parts of the federal Affordable Care Act into state law.

Gross, in an emailed statement, said with Congress making significant changes to federal health care law in the last weeks of the year, it didn’t make sense to continue right now.

“We want to make the best choices for the state, and at this time it is not practical to do so with so many moving pieces,” he wrote.

With the health care initiatives on hold, two other ballot measures have a little less than a month left to beat the signature-gathering deadline. A measure proposed by Bonnie Jack of Anchorage, Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage, and Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, would enact new restrictions on legislators, gifts to lawmakers, and the state budget process. A fisheries-related ballot measure is also seeking a spot on the 2018 ballot.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or call 523-2258.

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