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Alaska needs private-sector health care solutions

  • Author: Julie Taylor
    | Opinion
  • Updated: January 7
  • Published January 6

Alaska Regional Hospital on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

Quality health care, lower costs and a growing economy. Thank you to the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and its membership for passing a resolution supporting those things, upon which we can all agree.

The resolution passed by the group’s membership at its annual legislative forum in October “urges the Alaska State Legislature and the governor to examine private-sector alternatives for resolving issues associated with the high costs of health care before growing state government and mandating further expansion of Alaska’s State health care coverage.”

A mandatory, state-run health care system in Alaska is being considered. It is an idea that is well-intentioned, but lacks a pragmatic view.

Most agree that the high cost of health care in Alaska is an impediment to small-business opportunity and infringes on community and state growth.

What most don’t know is that the private sector already has a model in place that has been proven to reduce costs and has done so very effectively for the past several years.

Thanks to the work of the Pacific Health Coalition and similar nonprofit organizations, progress has been made on both the cost and quality fronts - and they are just getting started.

I am proud to share that Alaska Regional Hospital has an agreement with the Pacific Health Coalition that has lowered the cost of hospitalization and associated services, making it more affordable to stay at home for care.

Sending a patient to the Lower 48 for care that is available in Alaska not only hurts the patient from a continuity perspective, but is also bad for our economy. We are committed to supporting our local businesses and are excited to be a part of the solution.

Groups such as PHC are voluntary and member-funded. They and other private-sector organizations have a number of different strategies underway that are focused on ensuring high-quality, cost-effective care being consistently available in our community.

As a nurse and CEO with more than 30 years of industry experience, I have had a front-row seat to the challenges we face locally and at the national level. While we definitely have unique challenges when compared to other markets, solutions are very similar, with the best of them coming from the private sector. They have a greater capacity for innovation and are typically more nimble in their approach, which is better for patients and leads to greater efficiency and subsequent cost reductions.

We are fortunate to live in a state where our leaders have a vested interest in our well-being and are committed to ensuring we have the resources we need to be a great place to live, work and play. I appreciate the willingness to explore alternatives to reducing the cost of health care and help us over this hurdle.

Our government is good at many things, but in health care, containing costs requires immediate action and expertise to negotiate lower rates. Statutes have processes that need to be followed, making “immediate” impossible and efforts to be nimble and responsive handicapped from the start.

This is not the case with groups like PHC. They understand that it takes more than large health care pools to save money. In addition to the aggregation of populations, we need to be able manage resources effectively and steer people into the appropriate health care environment. This comes with benefit design, as well as providing education and incentives that guide improved behavior. That is not created overnight and the infrastructure to support such an effort is no easy undertaking.

At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: high-quality, cost-effective health care right in our home community. All I am suggesting is that we carefully examine existing models and resources currently available before recreating the wheel.

I applaud the Alaska Chamber, our governor and lawmakers for recognizing that the rising cost of health care has to be stemmed. Let us join the Alaska Chamber in encouraging private-sector innovation to find solutions.

Julie Taylor is the CEO of Alaska Regional Hospital.

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