Alaska News

Area seniors get more health care access

Our seniors are, and have been, required to participate in a federal program that does not adequately reimburse our primary care doctors for the expenses of providing decent services. Few primary care doctors in the city accept new Medicare patients because, according to doctors, the federal payments for patients 65 and older are insufficient to cover basic costs, leaving many seniors without quality primary care.

Currently there are more than 26,000 Medicare recipients in Anchorage; this number is expected to grow to more than 36,000 by 2014. Our seniors have called upon their legislators and local providers to find a solution -- and we have listened. Our seniors, who have given so much to our young state, deserve choices for their health care. We believe this is the least we can do.

We are happy to say that our seniors now have several options to fulfill their health care needs. There is the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic (ANHC), which currently operates a clinic in Fairview and, as a result of actions by the Legislature and governor to approve more than $6 million in state funds, has started construction on new and expanded facilities in Midtown. ANHC provides an array of health care services for all residents but they have and will continue to take all Medicare patients. The new facility will enable ANHC to dramatically increase its capacity to serve the community in a modern, comfortable environment. When construction is complete, the health center will consolidate all of its services and administrative offices at the one location.

Also, Providence Alaska Medical Center has recently announced its opening of a Senior Care Clinic. The clinic is open to all Medicare patients, as well as anyone over 55 years of age, and hopes to serve as many as 5,000 to 6,000 seniors annually. That's nearly half of the seniors in the city who do not have primary care health providers.

Most recently, we worked with Dr. George Rhyneer, Alaska Physicians and Surgeons, the Alaska State Medical Association, Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, and Providence Health and Services Alaska to open the Alaska Medicare Clinic. Located in South Anchorage, this nonprofit clinic will provide primary care services for Medicare patients only, helping to relieve the shortage of non-emergency and ongoing care. This clinic is designed to take advantage of the latest technology to more efficiently deliver care to local seniors. By taking only Medicare recipients, the Medicare Clinic has fewer administrative burdens with insurance companies. Through Rep. Stoltze's leadership as capital budget chair, the Legislature provided a grant to start up this new clinic, with the goal to have the clinic self-sufficient in three years.

These efforts are combined with Rep. Hawker's House Bill 16, Extending the Senior Benefit Program, which provides cash assistance to the neediest of our seniors. We were excited to be a part of the solution -- working together to significantly improve our seniors' options and choices to ensure the best care for their health needs.

Our seniors spoke and we in the Legislature, Dr. Rhyneer and the medical community in Southcentral have listened.

Low-income and Medicare residents in Anchorage and Southcentral can take advantage of increased access to facilities, doctors and a level of medical care we expect to be available to everyone. It is important to remember that in these years of health care rhetoric and national political sound-bite madness, members of the state House and Senate haven't forgotten to take care of some of our neediest residents, ensuring our seniors, who have taken care of us and pioneered Alaska to statehood, continue to enjoy the high quality of life we enjoy today.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, represents Senate District O and is currently the Senate majority leader. Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, is a former co-chair of House Finance and is currently chairman of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee. Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak/Mat-Su, is co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.