- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The state health department has hired a consultant to help recommend next steps as Gov. Bill Walker’s administration plans to implement Medicaid expansion and looks to make further changes to the existing Medicaid program.

The contract with Agnew::Beck Consulting LLC calls for a final report in January recommending alternative models of Medicaid expansion and options to help contain costs within the Medicaid program. The report will serve as a briefing document for the Legislature on reform opportunities and allow for the department to request legislative approval for reforms if needed, said Monique Martin, a health care policy adviser in the state health commissioner’s office. A report due in May would act as an action plan for the identified reforms, Martin said.

Additional consulting help, related to home- and community-based services, also is being sought by the department.

Department officials say they will be building on reform efforts already underway, including work to control overuse of emergency room services. Alaska’s Medicaid program is a major part of the state budget and widely seen as unsustainable in its current form.

Walker last week announced his plans to accept federal money for Medicaid expansion after lawmakers earlier this year tabled his proposal to expand and make changes to the program. State law spells out a process by which a governor goes through the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee when seeking to spend more in federal or other funds on a budget item than allocated by the Legislature. Even if the panel disagrees, the governor can proceed with his plans.

Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said he believes Walker has a legal right to take the actions he’s taking and that it wouldn’t do any good for lawmakers to try to challenge it. But he said there remain questions, including whether there are enough health care providers for the thousands of new people expected to enroll in expanded Medicaid. Meyer also said Walker is “probably a little bit premature” in moving to expand Medicaid now.

Meyer’s Republican-led caucus was split on Medicaid expansion during the last legislative session, and he said Tuesday that it may be too early to give a caucus position on possible next steps. “My personal thought is that we should just go ahead and accept the governor did what he did and then try to manage the cost the best we can going forward,” he said.

The state Republican Party, in a statement last week, said Walker “risks bankrupting Alaska” with his decision and that he “owns the entire risk and outcomes of his misadventure.”

Walker is planning to meet later this week to discuss expansion with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell while attending a National Governor’s Association event in West Virginia, his spokeswoman Katie Marquette said by email.

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