Voices of the Peninsula: Our health care rights are in jeopardy

Voices of the Peninsula: Our health care rights are in jeopardy

Cuts will have a detrimental impact on providers, large and small, and set a dangerous precedent.

  • Wednesday, July 24, 2019 11:17pm
  • Opinion

Our rights to privacy, health care, and reproductive autonomy are in serious jeopardy. The attempts to undermine Roe v. Wade have turned into overt attacks on the fundamental rights of women from federal and state governments, and our vigilance has turned to sounding the alarm to the grim future we may soon find ourselves.

We have seen 26 abortion bans enacted in 12 states — that’s just in 2019. Alaska isn’t exempt from this trend, with state legislators like Rep. David Eastman drawing inspiration from these cruel attacks. We all know that these bans will hit people struggling to make ends meet the hardest — women who can’t afford to take unpaid time off work, secure child care, and cross state lines to access safe and legal abortion.

The public health crisis in our state isn’t just about abortion access, Alaska continues to be a national leader in STI rates (namely gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis), domestic violence is still at a concerning high (especially among Alaska Native communities), and rape occurs on average 2.5 times more here than nationally.

And, for some reason, politicians keep making decisions that make these crises worse.

No decision so clearly demonstrates the divide between the health care needs of the people and the ambition of politicians as does Gov. Dunleavy’s veto of $77 million in Medicaid funding on June 28. On the same day, emergency regulations were put in place to slash the Medicaid reimbursement rate to providers. The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association doesn’t believe implementing emergency regulations simply to cut the reimbursement rates is warranted without public review and consultation, and has filed a lawsuit against Dunleavy’s administration. These cuts will have a detrimental impact on providers, large and small, and set a dangerous precedent.

Not only did he veto crucial Medicaid funding, he had the gall to veto funds from the appellate court to reflect the amount of money Dunleavy claims was spent on elective abortions last year. Why? Because he opposes access to reproductive health care and doesn’t agree with the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling that the state Medicaid program must pay for elective abortions. In other words, he is punishing the judicial branch for a decision made by the Alaska Supreme Court that upholds the constitutional right of women to have an abortion.

It seems the administration will be spending a lot of time in court defending the indefensible. Meanwhile, the cost to the quality of life and health of thousands of Alaskans will be real and devastating. The vetoes may have the appearance of saving the state some money while the headlines from Dunleavy’s press conference are fresh. Soon, millions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid will quickly be shifted to the wallets of citizens while this administration works to destroy the state’s health care network, and Alaskans will be forced to pay higher costs out of pocket for their medical care. Many small physician’s practices and medical clinics may close due to these cuts. Those who cannot afford to pay will turn up in droves to our already overburdened emergency rooms.

Is this really what we want to see happen in Alaska?

We need to make health care — including abortion care — available for every person so they can make the best decision for themselves and their family without shame or stigma. Whether you live in a rural area or a large city, everyone needs access to lifesaving, comprehensive health care, and a politician’s personally held beliefs shouldn’t be part of the equation.

Michele Vasquez is a legislative research consultant, community activist and a longtime Alaska resident who lives in Soldotna.

Michele Vasquez is a legislative research consultant, community activist and a longtime Alaska resident who lives in Soldotna.

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