02/27/2015 09:28 am ET Updated Apr 29, 2015

In Alaska, Republican Lawmakers Challenge Governor on Medicaid Expansion

JUNEAU -- The Republican-controlled House is poised to strip funding to expand the Medicaid health insurance program from Gov. Bill Walker's budget, the first shot in what's expected to be a contentious debate over one of Walker's central campaign planks.

The Walker administration says expanding Medicaid would give more than 40,000 low-income, uninsured Alaskans access to health coverage, bring to the state more than $1 billion in federal spending over the next six years, and reduce annual state spending by millions of dollars -- even in a few years from now, when the federal government's contribution to the expanded program scales back to 90 percent from full coverage.

In a news conference Thursday morning, Republican legislators said they want Walker to introduce a standalone Medicaid bill as a substitute for his current proposal, which would expand the program through changes to the state operating budget. State Rep. Mike Hawker (R-Anchorage) dismissed the projected savings by the Walker administration as "gratuitous assertions."

"I'm very concerned that those claims can be substantiated," Hawker said.

Those comments come in advance of a Friday-morning committee meeting in which Republican leaders are expected to strip money tied to Medicaid expansion from the health department budget submitted by the governor.