Surprising New Study Finds Huge Gap in Alaska’s Uninsured Youth

Surprising New Study Finds Huge Gap in Alaska's Uninsured Youth - cover

A new study released this week from the Georgetown University Center for Families and Children highlights the success of reducing the nation’s number of children without medical insurance. The uninsured rate has dipped to 7.2 percent (5.3 million children) in large part due to Medicaid and the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 2009.

An public opinion poll that accompanied the Georgetown report found the optimistic numbers clashing with public perception, finding that just 13 percent of Americans think children are gaining coverage. This is understandable; the inability of the Obama administration to explain its own health reform law has been rivaled only by the massive misinformation campaign underway to thwart implementation.

But if any of the 1,000 adults who participated in the poll hail from Alaska, the skepticism is on target.

The study points out that while the nation enjoyed a 2.1 percent drop in uninsured children between 2009 and 2012, Alaska incurred a 1.7 percent increase. With 25,957 uninsured youths 18 or younger, we rank second to last in the country, per capita, in front of only Nevada. Over the three year period, over 3,000 youths have swollen the directory of Alaskans without medical insurance.

The report was published less than a week after Alaska Governor Sean Parnell turned down the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act, which would have offered coverage for anyone living under the federal poverty level.

As Lisa Demer reported last Friday:

Expansion would have benefited 40,000 or more Alaskans, many of them low-income adults without children who currently have no health insurance. It also would have helped hospitals and doctors by reducing the amount of uncompensated care they have to write off and would have brought billions of federal dollars into the Alaska economy.

But Parnell said that uninsured Alaskans already have assistance. “Many go to 25 health centers around Alaska that care for people on a free or sliding scale,” he said at his press conference.

In fact, 24 of the 25 centers received $1,801,561 in grants from the federal government this year, and are slated to receive nearly $4 million in 2014. The funds, made available by the Affordable Care Act, are to help provide “more people across the country with the quality patient-centered care they deserve,” said DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, announcing the 2014 grants during a November 7 press conference.

Parnell touted the community health centers as his state-run alternative to Obamacare, even though they are being funded thanks in large part to Obamacare (with an emphasis on helping uninsured citizens enroll in the ACA health care exchanges). The politicization of the Medicaid expansion, heading into an election year, would seem to be the main motivator for the governor’s “Action, not Words.”

In an op-ed written for the Juneau Empire, Parnell defended turning down the Medicaid expansion: “Instead of accepting the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, Alaska will look to address gaps in Alaskans’ access to health care where they are not currently eligible for Medicaid.”

If access is the issue (and it’s a big one), Parnell has been preventing, not bolstering, it. These efforts seem to spike each time he needs to renew his lease on the Governor’s mansion, and the demographic highlighted in the Georgetown University report – children – have been on the receiving end on each occasion.

In the summer of 2010, sandwiched between the end of session and his eventual reelection the following fall, Sean Cockerham covered the Governor’s cuts to the budget:

Parnell vetoed nearly $3 million aimed at letting more Alaskans have health care costs covered under Denali KidCare. It’s an increase he supported when it overwhelmingly passed the Legislature. But the governor said he reversed his position after recently finding out some Denali Kid Care money goes to fund abortions.

Parnell said in a press conference at the time that he didn’t want to expand the state government. Last week, he warned of the dangers of more federal overreach: “Accepting the Obamacare Medicaid Expansion is akin to buying a high-priced ticket on a sinking ship.”

In between, a growing number of Alaskan children are being denied medical coverage, while feeling the walls close in like the trash compactor scene in the first Star Wars installment. The governor is going to great lengths to make addressing the issue of uninsured youth more difficult to confront.

What do you think?

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