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Alaska's senators must do right by Alaskans on health care

  • Author: Kevin D. McGee
  • Updated: May 24
  • Published May 24

Red cards, signaling disapproval, go up as Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan answers a question about maternity health coverage under the GOP health care bill at a town hall meeting he held at Bartlett High School in Anchorage, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2017. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would increase health care costs in Alaska more than in any other state. More commonly known as "TrumpCare," the American Health Care Act includes several provisions that would be devastating for Alaska:

• Ends the federal commitment to Medicaid.

• Slashes support for middle class families buying health insurance on the private market.

• Dramatically increases costs for individuals with pre-existing conditions, and allows insurance companies to re-establish lifetime limits on coverage.

Most Alaskans know that our health care costs are higher due to geography and lack of competition.  Any legislation that fails to address regional cost differences is likely to harm Alaska, as this bill does.

But this bill is particularly damaging because of how it undermines both Medicaid and private health insurance coverage.

Since 1964, the federal government has kept a basic commitment to states and to individuals: Medicaid pays for actual medical expenses.  This promise is particularly important in Alaska, one of the many states that has used Medicaid expansion to help tackle opioid addiction and other urgent public health problems.

TrumpCare would end this promise, turning Medicaid into a block grant model that no longer will cover actual health care costs.  Either Alaskans, our state government, or both will foot the ever-growing bill for health care costs no longer covered by Medicaid.

TrumpCare doesn't stop there. It guts the middle-class subsidies to help Alaskans purchase health insurance, for individuals who aren't lucky enough to get coverage through their employer. Remember — these subsidies are essential for many entrepreneurs and small-business owners.  TrumpCare would increase health care costs for many Alaskans by nearly 1,000 percent. For example, a 60-year-old earning $40,000 per year who currently pays $3,530 per year would pay $32,470 under TrumpCare. And oh-by-the-way, TrumpCare allows insurance companies to discriminate against middle age and older voters, charging them five times more for care rather than three times more, as is the current law.  Alaska has the most rapidly aging population in America, so once again TrumpCare would hurt Alaska more than any other state.

TrumpCare proponents claim that the bill maintains pre-existing conditions protections for consumers.  Like many Trump claims, that is not accurate.  TrumpCare allows insurance companies to charge much more to individuals with pre-existing conditions, effectively making their health care unaffordable.  The House bill would relegate people with pre-existing conditions to "high risk pools," which have never worked to provide affordable care. This part of TrumpCare will be a problem in all states, but it will create massive hardship for the 160,000 Alaskans with pre-existing conditions, who already bear the most expensive health care costs in the country.

Now all these problems land on the desks of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, because the Senate will have to clean up this mess. Alaskans have very simple expectations of our elected officials: Stand up for us. Vote against any bill that would make Alaskans pay more for less. Vote against any bill that ends the federal Medicaid commitment. Vote against any bill that takes affordable health insurance from  hard-working families. In short, reject the House bill.

It is unrealistic to expect Donald Trump to read or understand TrumpCare, and he apparently does not care if it results in the bankruptcy or premature death of Alaskans who would be affected by his bill.  If Trump doesn't care, it is particularly important that Murkowski and Sullivan represent Alaskans at this critical moment.

Kevin McGee is president of the Anchorage chapter of the NAACP.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

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