Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre made his pitch for a task force to look into health care on the Kenai Peninsula to the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce this week. While his presentation included a number of eye-opening statistics, it was a comment he made while taking questions following his remarks that should inspire peninsula residents to think about what we as consumers would like to see as the future of health care.
Navarre was asked whether the task force would look into the prospects of selling the borough-owned Central Peninsula and South Peninsula hospitals. Navarre said that he wouldn’t limit the task force’s scope, and followed up with this: “You know, if we’re not going to utilize the hospital better to address and help with the needs of our residents, then we might as well sell it.”
He went on to say that he is not in favor of selling the hospital, and joked that he was trademarking “Navarrecare.”
Kidding aside, the Kenai Peninsula is in an interesting position when it comes to health care. Between Central Peninsula Hospital and its affiliated practices and the growing number of private medical practices and facilities in the community, there is fairly comprehensive health care available. In terms of treatment, there are fewer and fewer medical issues that require a trip to Anchorage or Seattle.
At the same time, the population of the Kenai Peninsula is still relatively small enough, at just over 57,000, that the opportunity exists to actually try something different.
Navarre said that initially, he’d like to see the task force focus on whether the borough should enact health care powers, an action that would level out the property tax currently collected in hospital service areas. Beyond that, perhaps there are some programs the Kenai Peninsula could pilot. Navarre noted that government at one level or another picks up the tab for 65 percent of health care costs in Alaska; it certainly would be in the public’s interest to get a better handle on those costs.
There are no simple solutions to lowering costs and improving access to quality health care. Any changes, even one as straightforward as enacting health care powers borough-wide, are sure to be met with spirited debate.
But it’s a necessary debate. On its current trajectory, health care spending is unsustainable. As Navarre said, we can wait for a solution to come from Washington, D.C., that isn’t likely to work on the Kenai Peninsula.
Or, we can see if we can find some solutions of our own — ones that best address the needs of the Kenai Peninsula.