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Gov. Dunleavy, keep health in mind in next year’s budget

  • Author: Elizabeth Ripley
    | Opinion
  • Updated: November 29
  • Published December 1

The Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, photographed on Jan. 23, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Like many Mat-Su residents, my husband and I moved here from Outside to make Alaska our home. Alaska has been so incredibly good to us, and her people gracious and welcoming to our family. Here, we have been embraced by community, encouraged to connect, and expected to invest in public service. Daily, I’m humbled by the way people look out for one another, lend a helping hand to neighbors and ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are taken care of. We appreciated the June news story about how Gov. Mike Dunleavy assisted a stranded motorist. What a great example of Alaskan values deployed! We urge the governor and his team to consider those same values when formulating the state’s fiscal 2021 budget. After all, at its heart, a budget is a values document.

Specifically, as he works toward balancing the state’s budget, we hope he remembers that funding Medicaid remains a concern for the Mat-Su Health Foundation and thousands of Alaskans. We expect the innovations brought about by the 1115 waiver will result in long-term savings without reductions in the care people receive, and we applaud his administration’s work on this. However, as he knows, it will take years to fully realize these savings. In the meantime, people still need care. Yet access to health care for children, older Alaskans and other adults who rely on Medicaid is already being compromised. Reduced reimbursement rates are leading physicians to further limit the number of Medicaid patients they serve. The cuts are disproportionately affecting behavioral health providers, putting them at risk of going out of business. Excessive cuts to the Medicaid budget fly in the face of the increasing prevalence and demand for behavioral health services by Mat-Su residents, and they put our citizens at more risk for public safety issues.

We have had several conversations with Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Adam Crum about our concerns over Medicaid funding, and we have expressed willingness to help maximize efficiencies in the program. A helpful road map to addressing cost, quality and access already exists in the work of the Alaska Healthcare Transformation Project. This project was funded in part by the state of Alaska and in part by private donations, including substantial investment by the Mat-Su Health Foundation. We urge the governor and commissioner to review the plan and help to implement its recommendations, which will result in achievement of three specific goals: lowering the annual per capita healthcare cost growth rate from 7.6% to the greater of 2.25% or the consumer price index; increasing the percentage of Alaska residents with an identified source of primary care from 68% to 83%; and aligning all payers (public and private) towards value-based alternative payment models with streamlined administrative requirements and improved care coordination.

Physicians, nursing homes and hospitals, including Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, need certainty in order to continue investing in critical health care infrastructure to serve the state’s fastest growing population. These health care expansion projects rely on Medicaid for some of their operating funds, but at the same time, they increase access to care and stimulate the economy through the creation of living-wage jobs. The federal funds leveraged by Medicaid directly contribute to the turnaround Gov. Dunleavy is striving to bring to Alaska’s economy.

The Mat-Su Health Foundation remains committed to not only preserving Medicaid funding, but also that of several other elements of the state budget, including support for housing and homelessness services, as well as early childhood education and services. We provide funding and technical assistance to Mat-Su nonprofit organizations offering theses services, but our assets can’t possibly fill the gap left by the state budget. We ask that the state of Alaska continues to fund health and social services that provide critical supports to families and children, provide early and cost-effective interventions for vulnerable populations, and strengthen the communities where we live, work and play. Gov. Dunleavy’s leadership in developing a budget that supports these values is needed now more than ever.

Elizabeth Ripley serves as CEO of the Mat-Su Health Foundation.

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