You don’t need to be a medical professional to understand that COVID-19 has a firm foothold in Alaska and our hospitals and clinics are now on the front lines. As physicians bracing for this emerging crisis, we write to remind you that Governor Dunleavy’s fiscal policies have been no friend to healthcare in our state.
Earlier this month, he vetoed $210 million from the legislatively approved budget, including cuts to Medicaid and higher education — both of which play a vital role in delivering robust healthcare to Alaskans.
In the midst of rising COVID-19 infections in our state, it’s crucial to move quickly and ensure leaders at the highest level of government, especially our governor, set budget priorities which demonstrate that health care funding is not negotiable. With our recklessly underfunded health care system facing a global pandemic, it has never been more important to have a leader with the well-being of all Alaskans in mind.
The profound effects of underfunding Alaska’s health care system are just now coming to light. The Anchorage Daily News reports the state has already begun rationing Medicaid funds due to $170 million in cuts made last year to that program. Roughly 250,000 Alaskans — 30% of our state — depend on Medicaid funds to obtain adequate medical care, which means a health coverage downgrade for nearly one in three people. In an average year, this is a short-sighted way to govern. During a major health crisis like COVID-19, it is unconscionable.
Seniors are another population negatively affected by Governor Dunleavy’s policies on health and social services.
We don’t yet know exactly what COVID-19 will mean for elders who lost key food and housing benefits last year due to budget vetoes, but it is certain they will become increasingly vulnerable to disease if their basic needs aren’t being met. What about Pioneer Home residents who may no longer have a roof over their heads, much less ready access to medical care for end-of-life health concerns? We deserve a governor who makes future decisions with the health and well-being of all Alaskans in mind.
Almost anyone who has benefitted from medical care understands the value of educational programs that ensure our state has enough doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. In light of this, we must ask ourselves why last year Governor Dunleavy fought to eliminate the WWAMI program, which trains Alaskan doctors, and slashed $70 million from our university system, which provides basic science education to future health care workers. We have yet to find rational answers.
The governor’s poor decision-making extends further still. Management of Alaska’s only state-run mental health facility, Alaska Psychiatric Institute, has been handed over in a no-bid contract to Wellpath Recovery Solutions, a for-profit company based in Tennessee.
On the best of days, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals witness the devastating impacts of Governor Dunleavy’s fiscal policies on the health of Alaskans. COVID-19 is a wake-up call that worse days are coming.
Dr. Laurie Montano has practiced medicine in Anchorage for 18 years. Dr. Tina Tomsen has practiced medicine in Alaska for 34 years, and Dr. Robert Hunter has practiced medicine in Sitka for 40 years.
• Dr. Laurie Montano has practiced medicine in Anchorage for 18 years. Dr. Tina Tomsen has practiced medicine in Alaska for 34 years, and Dr. Robert Hunter has practiced medicine in Sitka for 40 years.