Alaskans want and need public investment in education and health

As a physician fortunate enough to practice in Alaska since 1965, I want to share a long-term perspective about health care reform. Beginning in our shared distant past, we who make Alaska home have inherited and so far failed to solve the riddle of economic inequity.

It has always been a fact that the poor do not get equal access or services in health care. Our nation, which still tries to offer a realistic "American Dream" to the downtrodden and desperate immigrants from tortured foreign shores, has made numerous political attempts to achieve fairness in health care for all. Theodore Roosevelt was the first of several Republican leaders to champion a national health care system. Many continue holding deep faith in the private sector economy as superior to what other nations practice as socialized medicine. Global health statistics now indicate we lag behind many of these nations, which have lower infant mortality, longer life expectancy and much lower per capita health care costs. Political preferences and debates will continue in our practice of free speech and openness to economic investment as superior to government controlled health care. My goal now is to convince our legislators that Medicaid expansion is a real investment in private system health care that will boost Alaska's economy in a time of budget crisis while improving individual and public health for all.

One of the persistent political complaints about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is how huge the actual bill was in words and pages that "no one could understand." It is still believed by many to be government controlled socialized medicine. Yet, as I understand it, the economic structure is shaped by private, insurance marketplace control within our well-established private health insurance and medical practitioner systems. Our Supreme Court upheld a time-honored deference to state's rights by denying the ACA-required state Medicaid expansion to enroll millions of health uninsured citizens. The court upheld the mandated insurance enrollment with tax penalties. This reflects understanding that health care, like other human needs, can never be entirely free and we all need to pay some so that our health insurance system can remain sustainable. Thirty-six of our 50 states have chosen to expand Medicaid, with millions now happy to at last have health insurance. Such states receive federal funding for these increased costs with promise within the ACA that it will continue at no less than 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.

As Gov. Bill Walker and the Alaska Legislature work through the many challenges of Alaska Medicaid reform and expansion, I challenge them to see expansion as a long-term investment for our state's economic as well as basic societal health and education opportunity.

The recent outbreaks of measles are but one example of widespread preventive health and disease ignorance. Education and Public Health professionals continue to demonstrate how improved health education and increased use of preventive medicine pay significant dividends. They remind us how important our economic future depends on graduating more students with the critical science, technology, engineering, and math skills to compete with other states and nations. They also challenge us to invest in expanding medical homes for all of our children so that easily treatable conditions in early stages do not fester and worsen to more expensive emergency room and hospitalization costs. Prevention and early intervention are critical features of the ACA. Again, the ACA is not government controlled "socialized medicine." It is a 21st century investment in both education and health.

As Gov. Walker has repeatedly led with the idea that "It's the Right Thing to Do," I implore as many readers as possible to call, write, email, or go in person to your legislator to help them see this opportunity for a brighter Alaska future through investment in education and health.

George W. Brown, M.D., is a pediatrician who lives with his wife in Douglas.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

George Brown

George W. Brown, M.D., is a pediatrician who lives with his wife in Douglas.