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One Of Alaska's Senators Could Be A Deciding Vote On Affordable Care Act Replacement


Republican senators are mounting a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. It's unclear whether the bill introduced by senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana has enough votes to pass. Many Republicans on the fence are looking to their governors for guidance. And joining us now is Alaska's governor, Bill Walker. He is an independent. And he is against the plan. His state's senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, could be one of the deciding votes on this. Governor Walker, welcome to the program.

BILL WALKER: Well, thank you very much. Happy to be here.

CHANG: Well, thank you for joining us. Health care in Alaska poses obviously some unique challenges. It's a very rural state, and it's very expensive to provide health care there. Why do you think this bill does not meet your state's needs?

WALKER: Well, there's lots of - a lot of unknowns about it right now. I've been trying to gather as much information as I can, uncertainty about it and, you know, because there's a lot of disparity as far as different analysis of it. And things are moving very quickly. So I am concerned, certainly. The state of - you know, Alaska, 82 percent of our communities are not accessible by road. If you want - if you - an ambulance ride will most likely entail a medevac flight, which is a $50,000-plus expense. So it's very different in Alaska. So we're - I'm following it very closely. And again, for me, it's about process. I'm not - I'm not a partisan. I'm the only nonpartisan, independent governor of the 50 states. So I don't look at it from a partisan standpoint.

CHANG: Well, I want to talk about one specific provision in the bill under this Graham-Cassidy plan. It seems like very rural states like Alaska would actually get more funding, at least for a few years. In fact, projections from Cassidy's office, at least, say Alaska's supposed to get more money for Medicaid beneficiaries than other states would. Are you concerned that that still would not be enough money for your state?

WALKER: The - well, I have to look at it from the short term, the immediate short term and the long term.


WALKER: And so I am concerned that the - sort of what is being added, I'm concerned that it may be there on a very short-term basis and then gone. So I - you know, it's not just about Alaska as well. I mean, I - certainly that's who I - you know, born and raised there. I'm honored to be the governor of Alaska. But it's somewhat bigger than Alaska as well. The health care issue is a national issue that needs to be addressed. And again, you know, I just don't believe that any one party has a monopoly on good ideas. I'd like to see bipartisan input and discussion and a process that involves a little more - a better process that involves the governors more than it has been today.

CHANG: Well, I still am a little unclear about your specific concerns about the legislation. You've come out as against it explicitly, but what can you tell me that you're specifically concerned by?

WALKER: I have not been convinced that it's good for Alaska. I'm not convinced that we won't see a decrease in funds, a decrease in those that are covered. And so, you know, while I do appreciate the greater flexibility for our state, and as the governor of Alaska I'm happy for that, but if it's a significant amount of dollars, then that's a problem. And so I - you know, I signed onto the letter because of my concern about the process and also my concern that, again, I'm getting a lot of conflicting information from different offices, different organizations as far as what the bill actually does. So, you know, the intent, I think, is great. But if the intent is not part of the actual legislation itself, then that's a problem.

CHANG: As we mentioned, Senator Murkowski is a critical vote on this. If she opposes the bill that could effectively kill it. Have you spoken with Senator Murkowski about how she should vote?

WALKER: Well, I have spoken to her about this on numerous occasions. And we are - I speak with her frequently on this issue. And basically what we've been doing is we've been comparing notes about what I've been hearing, what I've been told, some of my concerns. She expresses some of her concerns. And so I am - she is very - obviously very engaged in the process, but also very engaged with me in the process, which - I appreciate that very much. And also, Senator Dan Sullivan - you know, I've been in communications as well. So it's not just - it's both of our senators I'm in communication with. And I appreciate very much their willingness to reach out and, you know, receive input from me and hear my concerns.

CHANG: All right.

WALKER: I don't surprise them. I let them know as they send the letter I was going to sign onto the letter, which we of course modified to make it less partisan.

CHANG: All right, thank you very much. That's Governor Bill Walker of Alaska. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.