Health

Instability in national health insurance policy puts Alaska ballot measures on hold

Alaska voters will not see a pair of questions on the 2018 general election ballot asking whether they want to cement major pieces of the federal Affordable Care Act into state law.

The two groups sponsoring the proposed citizen initiatives announced Monday that they are suspending their efforts to gather enough signatures to get the questions on the ballot.

"Instability in the national health care policy has made it unworkable for the citizen initiatives to be presented to voters in the near term," they said in a statement.

One of the initiatives would have created a state law that mirrored requirements in the federal health care law — also called Obamacare — like mandates that insurers cover pre-existing conditions and cover dependent children up to 26 years old.

The other initiative aimed to bolster the Medicaid health care program for low-income and disabled Alaskans by boosting payments to doctors and hospitals, as well as guaranteeing that the state would continue coverage for the "expanded" Medicaid population: about 35,000 Alaskans who were newly covered under the Affordable Care Act.

The initiatives were sponsored by Healthcare for Alaska and Defend Alaska's Care, two new political groups that registered with state campaign finance regulators in July.

The two groups are chaired by Dr. Alan Gross, an orthopedic physician who left his practice in Juneau in 2013. He recently told an Anchorage Daily News columnist that he was no longer comfortable being part of the state's expensive health care system.

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Gross's groups had to gather more than 30,000 signatures for each initiative to qualify for the 2018 ballot. It's unclear how many signatures they had by Monday.

Jordyn Grant, campaign manager for both groups, did not respond to a request for comment by late Monday afternoon.

Grant said in the statement that the groups may opt to sponsor the initiatives for the 2020 ballot "if the national situation develops more clarity in the next year."

The groups' statement said several factors contributed to an "unstable political environment for creating state level policy." Those factors included the elimination of a mandate in the Affordable Care Act that most Americans have health insurance. That elimination is included in the federal tax bill headed for a vote this week.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.

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