Alaska's new Medicaid expansion project director plans to extend healthcare coverage to some of the state's lowest-income residents.
Alaska Dispatch News reported Saturday that Chris Ashenbrenner was appointed by Gov. Bill Walker when he created the new position.
The planned expansion will extend Medicaid coverage to all Alaskans who earn up to 138% of the poverty level or about $20,120 per year.
Before that can happen in Alaska, Ashenbrenner will have to work through a series of hurdles. The state's Medicaid eligibility and payment systems have been plagued with defects. She'll also have to convince lawmakers to accept and spend federal funds on expansion and to allocate state dollars for infrastructure to handle the expanded program.
Medicaid expansion was one of the key points during Walker's campaign against former Gov. Sean Parnell, who said the expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act was too costly.
When Ashenbrenner first took a job with the state in 1982, she worked as a clerk in the Division of Public Assistance, eventually rising to the role of director in 2001. Her focuses included implementing Denali KidCare and welfare reform. Most recently, Ashenbrenner served as the executive director of the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault before retiring in 2009.
She came out of retirement for the new post.
"We knew we needed someone with a proven track record for bringing on pretty heavy projects; pretty transformational projects to the state," said the state health department's commissioner Valerie Davidson.
Originally, Ashenbrenner said, she planned to complete her work on Medicaid expansion by king salmon season, but since better assessing the task at hand, she said, "Now I'm saying, 'How about hunting season?'"
Ashenbrenner was a fisherman before she quit her job in 1981 to find a job with health insurance.
"So I took a state job," Ashenbrenner, a lifelong Alaskan, said. "I liked the work and I liked having health insurance, so I just kept going."