Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced Thursday that he would unilaterally expand Medicaid in the state, after the state's lawmakers repeatedly rebuffed efforts earlier this year to pass legislation expanding the health insurance program to more low-income adults. 

“Today Alaska becomes the 30th state to accept the benefits of Medicaid expansion,” said Walker, who has been an Independent since 2014 after being a Republican in previous years. He made the announcement, which was expected for Thursday, on Twitter:




The funding would be in place by Sept. 1, he said during a news conference at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage.

Alaska lawmakers had repeatedly rejected proposals for a Medicaid expansion, which Walker, as a gubernatorial candidate in 2014, had promised to enact. “I've always said, we will accept Medicaid expansion, and we will do it very quickly when we get into office,” Walker said in October 2014, KTUU-TV reported. "Why would we not when it helps up to 40,000 Alaskans, creates up to 4,000 new jobs in Alaska, brings down overall healthcare. I just can't say no.”

Walker's predecessor, Gov. Sean Parnell, had rejected federal funding of about $3 billion to help cover the cost of Medicaid expansion for about 40,000 people in Alaska.




This year, a budget agreement that would have expanded Medicaid failed to pass the Republican-dominated Alaska House and Senate during its regular session. The governor called a special session, which legislators adjourned before calling their own special session that did not include expanding Medicaid on its agenda.

For Walker to take unilateral action would not be unconstitutional, legal experts said in June. KTUU reported that the funding mechanism Walker would use to put the expansion into play had already been used seven times before.