Opinions

Alaskans put at risk by junk health care plans

Earlier this month, Sen. Dan Sullivan voted once again to put health care at risk for 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, many of whom live right here in Alaska. By blocking legislative action to pass the Protect Pre-Existing Conditions Act, which would limit the Trump administration’s expansion of junk health insurance plans, Sen. Sullivan is ignoring the health and well-being of over 321,000 Alaskans with pre-existing conditions, instead siding with big pharmaceutical companies and insurers who profit when people are denied coverage.

Junk plans are bad for Alaskans, plain and simple. Designed to skirt the Affordable Care Act’s vital consumer protections, they do not have to provide comprehensive coverage, and they allow insurers to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. When junk plans are allowed to proliferate, consumers are often led to websites where brokers sell non-ACA compliant health insurance plans. Patients end up saddled with huge medical bills when they find out their insurance won’t cover basic things like hospitalization or prescription drugs, sometimes leading to bankruptcy.

Allowing insurers to offer these junk plans will cause suffering for thousands of Alaskans. That’s why groups like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Consumers Union have warned against the expansion of junk plans, with the latter warning that it would put “meaningful coverage out of reach for many Americans, especially those with chronic and preexisting conditions.”

Trump and Sen. Sullivan continue to push these sham insurance plans despite such warnings from experts. Because President Trump and Senate Republicans could not eliminate the Affordable Care Act outright, they are now instead encouraging states to expand these skimpy alternatives and reduce protections for those with less-than-perfect medical histories, which will drive up health care costs for everyone while putting insurance companies back in charge.

Sen. Sullivan will claim he is committed to protecting Alaskans with pre-existing conditions, but his own record on health care tells a completely different story. With his recent vote against the Protect Pre-Existing Conditions Act, Sen. Sullivan failed to protect the 17 million children, 68 million women, and 30 million seniors who have a pre-existing condition. Senate Republicans stood idly by as Senate Democrats delivered speeches on the Senate floor emphasizing the need to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions, and now Sen. Sullivan must face his constituents and explain why he did not stand up for their health care.

The vote to curb junk plans and protect people with pre-existing conditions was likely the only vote the Senators will take on health care until after 2020, and Senator Sullivan chose not to stand with the people in his state who need comprehensive, affordable health coverage. This comes at the same time families across the country are awaiting a decision in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on the Trump-sponsored lawsuit to fully and completely eliminate the Affordable Care Act. This lawsuit is nothing more than a partisan attack by Republicans hell-bent on repealing the law, with no regard for the real people whose lives will change if they lose access to their health care. The Republican assault on Americans’ health care is relentless; the Trump administration is even slashing funds meant to promote the Open Enrollment period when people can sign-up to register for health coverage.

Republican lawmakers are showing their constituents time and again that all they have to offer is lip service, not action, when it comes to making it easier for people to access quality health coverage. Despite recent polling showing that 70 percent of people support ending junk plans, Senate Republicans, including Sen. Sullivan, showed that their loyalty is to President Trump – not Alaskans’ health care.

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Berta Gardner is a former Democratic member of the Alaska State Senate.

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Berta Gardner

Berta Gardner represents Anchorage’s House District 24 (Midtown Anchorage and Taku) in the Alaska House of Representatives. Rep. Gardner sits on the House committees for House Resources, Community and Regional Affairs, Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, and Ethics. As a Democrat, she also serves the 26th Alaska Legislature as House Minority Whip.

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