Still searching for health care solutions

  • Saturday, August 29, 2015 6:12pm
  • Opinion

Access to affordable, timely health care — or lack thereof — continues to make headlines here on the Kenai Peninsula.

Last Monday, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan visited Kenai to hear from veterans about frustrations with the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which was implemented a year ago which, for people tangled up in the program, has been dubbed the “No Choice” program. Veterans voiced concerns about long waits and a lack of communication, properly-trained employees and accountability.

On Thursday, the Alaska Division of Insurance approved average rate increases of nearly 40 percent for the two companies, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield and Moda Health, that provide individual health insurance plans through the federally run online marketplace. The companies cited the state’s high cost of services, small market and a small group of individuals with high-cost claims.

And on Friday, a state Superior Court judge rejected a request from the Alaska Legislative Council to block Gov. Bill Walker’s expansion of Medicaid. With the ruling and absent the intervention of the Alaska Supreme Court, expansion of Medicaid could move forward in the coming week. Proponents of Medicaid expansion have said it will provide health care coverage for as many as 40,000 Alaskans; opponents are reluctant to expand a program they say is unsustainable.

Health care is an even an issue at the local level, with the Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s health care task force meeting. The panel is tasked with, among other things, looking for ways to reduce health care costs for everyone, rather than simply shifting the costs from one user group to another.

Sen. Sullivan, speaking about the Choice Act, noted that one of the ironies of its implementation has been that many of the solutions were developed in Alaska.

While it’s unfortunate that good ideas from Alaska have been botched in the implementation, the situation does provide some insight as to a way to move forward on an Alaska solution for health care. Alaskans have always demonstrated an ability to think outside the box — or in this case, outside the constraints of any particular program — to develop solutions that work here. Much of it has been from necessity — in most parts of the state, Alaska doesn’t have the infrastructure or the population to support programs that might be effective elsewhere.

What’s more, Alaskans have never been shy about doing things our own way, generally phrasing that sentiment in terms of not giving a darn about how they do it in the Lower 48.

As has been demonstrated with veterans health care prior to the Choice Act implementation, Alaskans can find solutions that work. What we need is leadership that can put political differences aside to create an environment where those solutions can be put to good use.

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