When was the last time you cheered the fact that the price of something rose 10 percent?
That seemed to be what the state of Alaska was asking us to do on Monday when it sent out a triumphant press release proclaiming that Gov. Bill Walker had signed a bill bailing out the sole remaining insurer in the state’s health insurance marketplace.
“Premera announced that as a result of the bill’s passage, rates will increase about 10 percent in 2017 — down significantly from a 37-percent increase in 2015 and a 39-percent increase in 2016,” the release declared.
Oh, joy. Only a 10 percent increase. Only a little less money we’ll have to spend on food, rent, clothing and the other necessities of life.
Our health insurance marketplace is badly broken. You can argue about who broke it, but you cannot argue that it isn’t broken.
A 10 percent increase is unsustainable. It might be less unsustainable than a 40-percent increase per year, but it doesn’t change the fact that the state must act to repair its public health care system.
More than 23,000 Alaskans — about 3 percent of the state’s population — rely on the health care marketplace. Many more Alaskans rely on employer-provided health care. All have seen enormous cost increases in the past few years.
Unless this increase slows, stops or reverses itself, all Alaskans will find themselves unable to afford health care. The burden of treating uninsured Alaskans will fall to our community hospitals, charities and organizations unsuited for carrying the burden.
We do not have a solution for this problem, but it’s time that we found one.
We need the Alaska Legislature to convene a special working group to address the situation. Ideally, the working group would be built upon the successful model pioneered by the reformers who have been working to repair the state’s criminal justice system.
Through careful study and analysis, we expect this group to come up with a solution for our problem. Whether that solution comes from the free market, a multi-state insurance cooperative, a single-payer plan backed by government, or something as extreme as joining the Canadian system, we need to come up with an answer that stops the inexorable rise in health costs and makes care affordable.
The alternative makes us sick.
— Juneau Empire,