Alaskans can protect health care gains

Our country and state are going through a politically agonizing transition of our health care system. And as our citizens and politicians fight back and forth over who will pay for what and how, patients are being thrown back and forth with regard to their coverage and benefits. As we transition toward a different and hopefully better health care delivery system, certain patient safeguards should be in place to ensure that patients have both access and quality care while our government and its people debate the future direction of health care.

A group of Alaskans have thus joined together to put forward two statewide health care initiatives to do just that. These initiatives act to preserve sensible administration of health care in Alaska, for Alaskans.

The first initiative, "Healthcare for Alaskans Act of 2018," will act to protect Alaska's Medicaid expansion of 2015.

The second initiative, "Quality Health Insurance for Alaskans Act of 2018," will help stabilize insurance markets and ensures that insurance companies will continue to offer fair and reasonable policies with respect to some of the most popular aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

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Since the state of Alaska chose to expand Medicaid in 2015 there have been approximately 35,000 newly insured patients who previously had no form of health care coverage. Alaska's Medicaid expansion has benefited not only those patients, many of whom badly needed access to health care, but also the medical providers and the hospitals that previously took care of this large population while often receiving no reimbursement for their rendered medical care. These newly insured Alaskans now also have access to mental health and opioid treatment programs.

As our government debates whether to cut or expand aspects of the Medicaid program, Alaskans should mandate by law that we, at a minimum, keep our state Medicaid enrollment criteria as defined in 2015 when the state elected to expand enrollment. Sen. Lisa Murkowski clearly understands the tremendous benefit that the Medicaid expansion has been for Alaska. This is a major reason as to why she has been such a brave and outspoken advocate for our state on the national health care forum and she should be commended for standing up for Alaskans in this regard.


The second initiative which we are sponsoring guarantees that Alaskans continue to have health insurance available that is fair and reasonable for patients. It mandates that insurance companies cannot discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions and that health insurance plans cover maternal and pediatric care, and allow children to stay on their parent's plan until age 26. The initiative also requires that plans offer fair and reasonable preventative care and limits out-of-pocket costs. It establishes what we, as Alaskans, feel is fair and reasonable when we buy insurance.

These initiatives are aimed at protecting patients during this difficult political time in our country.  They are not the ultimate solution to our country's health care problems, but as our leadership flounders over how to reform health care, these initiatives will protect patients' rights along the tumultuous path of reform.  Passage of these initiatives will also send a strong message to Washington that we Alaskans demand a basic level of health care rights.

We hope you agree and urge you to support both of these measures. There will soon be a statewide signature campaign to put these initiatives on the ballot in November 2018. Together, we can protect our hard-won health care rights and save many of our family members, friends and neighbors from unnecessary suffering and hardship.

Dr. Alan Gross is a lifelong Alaskan, an orthopedic surgeon who has practiced since 1994 and is a commercial fisherman. He holds a masters degree in public health and lives in Petersburg.

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.