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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee said the state is not on a path to expanding Medicaid.
But Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said Thursday that he would keep an open mind to the possibility.
Kelly made his comments as the committee discussed hiring former state health commissioner Bill Streur as a consultant. Streur served under former Gov. Sean Parnell, who resisted expanding Medicaid coverage, citing cost concerns.
Parnell's successor, Gov. Bill Walker, has made expanding Medicaid a priority and said he thinks it will lead to savings.
Walker's health commissioner, Valerie Davidson, said even with the state's budget situation, expanding health care coverage to thousands of Alaskans would be a good investment. She said she also sees it as a catalyst for meaningful Medicaid reform.
The state faces multibillion-dollar deficits amid a crash in oil prices.
During Thursday's committee hearing, Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said he wanted to make clear that the purpose of the contract with Streur was not to find ways to justify rejecting Medicaid expansion. Kelly said that was correct.
The contract's scope of work includes a review of potential savings from expansion as well as consulting on the state health department budget. The committee approved the contract, which is for up to $45,000 and to run through April.
Kelly said the state has no choice but to address Medicaid if it wants to reduce the overall budget. He said Streur has experience in working to slow the growth of Medicaid and will be a valuable resource.
He asked committee members to keep an open mind to expansion. He said if he's wrong in his personal view, he wants to know it.
Streur "may have some ideas that would convince us that, in fact, we can find some savings from Medicaid expansion," Kelly said. "I've never believed that, frankly, but when I hear it from a guy like Bill Streur, I start to think a little bit different."
"That's not the path we're on; we're not headed for a Medicaid expansion," Kelly said, adding that his mind is "completely open" to evidence that will come before the committee.
The panel also approved a contract of up to $100,000 for former state Revenue commissioner Angela Rodell. She is to consult on issues including the state retirement systems, bond ratings and the major liquefied natural gas project the state is pursuing.
The retainer in the contract is for nearly $81,000, for work through the end of session. Committee co-chair Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, said the authorization to go up to $100,000 is in case the session runs long and Rodell's help is still needed.
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