Murkowski, Sullivan noncommittal on Senate health care bill

WASHINGTON — Alaska's two U.S. senators say they are beginning the process of a close review of the Senate Republican leadership's proposed legislation to alter the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, released the 142-page "discussion draft" of the bill Thursday morning, written by staffers behind closed doors for weeks.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been increasingly vocal about her distaste for the non-transparent process, but has not made any early indications about whether she will vote for the final product, whatever that may be.

"Now that we have full text of the Senate's bill, I will do my due diligence and thoroughly review it," Murkowski said in a statement after McConnell held a meeting with Republican senators and released the bill text.

"I will be working closely with the state over the next several days to analyze the text and crunch the numbers. It's no secret that health care needs to be reformed, but it needs to be done right. So know that I remain committed to ensuring that all Alaskans have access to affordable, quality health care and will vet this bill through that lens," Murkowski said.

In recent days, Murkowski has remained skeptical about the secret legislation, and said she wants to see more access and lower costs.

Sullivan, too, said he plans to closely "read every word" of the bill in the coming days "to see if Alaska-specific issues are addressed."

"Such issues include stabilizing the Alaska insurance market, reversing the trend of dramatically increasing costs, and providing a sustainable and equitable path forward for Medicaid," Sullivan said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Sullivan said he hopes that Congress can do better for Alaska and the country, where many "are being forced to buy insurance that they can't afford and can't use."

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker echoed that sentiment, noting that Alaska pays the "highest health care premiums in the country," and many in the state face steep costs for health care.

Walker, who chose to expand Medicaid coverage to include more Alaskans who live near the poverty line, said that affordable treatment is necessary to manage the state's opioid epidemic.

"My team and I are analyzing the newly released discussion draft of the Senate Republican health care bill. Given the population size, vastness, and remote location of Alaska, I am deeply concerned about the potential effects of a one-size-fits-all approach," Walker said.

But he expressed confidence that Murkowski and Sullivan would help represent the state in ongoing negotiations over the bill.

Murkowski has long been considered a potential "swing" vote in the health care debate, largely because of her insistence that the state's expanded Medicaid coverage not be interrupted, and for her allegiance to Planned Parenthood — a rarity within the party.

Given that there have been no negotiations with Democrats on health care, McConnell is expecting to work entirely within the 52-member GOP majority. That means he can only afford to lose two votes, with Vice President Mike Pence acting as a tie-breaker.

Already Thursday, however, four conservative Republicans said that they cannot support the bill in its current form, which they said did not do enough to repeal the Affordable Care Act and lower health care costs. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin; Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said in a joint statement that they are "open to negotiation" before the bill is brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

Do you have a health care horror story to share? Have you faced unreasonably high costs under the Affordable Care Act? Or did some portion of the law help you and your family? Want to share?

Email Alaska Dispatch News' Washington correspondent at emartinson@adn.com.