5 Things Alaska: Sen. Dan Sullivan, Amazon in health care, Lori Wing-Heier

We are looking forward to seeing many of you at our upcoming 2017 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference in two weeks!  If you haven’t reviewed the Topical Agenda, check it out here.

Now, on to 5 Things We’re Watching in Alaska health care, many of which you’ll hear about at our event on October 3rd!

DJ 5 Things Signature


1.  Keynote: US Sen. Sullivan and federal health policy

We are excited to let you know that Sen. Dan Sullivan will be opening our event as our Morning Keynote Speaker at our 2017 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference.  Following his comments via Skype, we’ll have a Q&A session. Given that the Graham-Cassidy bill may have 49 votes, it’s possible we’ll be on the other side of a major legislative action in the Senate by October 3rd. His participation couldn’t be better timed.

Sen. Dan Sullivan released a 14-page letter to Alaskans regarding his vote in support of the previous Senate health reform bill, known by its acronym BCRA.  It’s a comprehensive set of considerations, policy positions, and data points. It’s lengthy, but it represents a significant level of thought, candor, and work by Sen. Sullivan and his team. It’s worth the review.

From the letter: “I have tried to ensure that any reforms to the ACA do not pull the rug out from under Alaska’s Medicaid expansion population, or the traditional Medicaid population. As explained more fully below, I believe my efforts within the BCRA would have firmly kept this commitment and kept Alaska’s Medicaid on a more sustainable and equitable path for future generations.”

2.  Keynote:  Lori Wing-Heier on Walker admin health policy

Lori Wing-Heier is becoming something of a national celebrity in health policy. She’s Alaska’s Director of the Division of Insurance. Two weeks ago, she testified before the bi-partisan hearings in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on how best to stabilize commercial insurance markets. Earlier this year, she shepherded the approval of one of the first 1332 waivers in the country.

She’ll provide our closing Afternoon Keynote Address at our conference in two weeks.  She’ll discuss the stabilization of the 2018 commercial marketplace, and what plans, providers, and customers can expect. She’ll also discuss the Walker administration’s latest progress on Medicaid reform and add her insights to the latest policy proposals coming out of Washington DC.


3.  Sen Hughes goes to Spokane for cancer treatment as a result of costs

Sen. Shelley Hughes was diagnosed with breast cancer over the summer. In an act of personal courage, Hughes has been posting videos on her public Facebook page. She went into surgery last week for a double mastectomy, with a follow up procedure set for this Wednesday. By this past weekend, she was asking to “love on those that are in the battle,” and pray for those facing cancer but also those working on research to defeat cancer.

In late August, Hughes explained why she was flying outside to Spokane for her treatment after initially wanting to be at Providence Alaska. “When surgeries are costing three to four times more up here than down there, it puts many Alaskans in a position that maybe they can’t get something done without going outside. Just like I work to take care of your wallet, I have to protect mine in this case.”

When legislators, with rich insurance benefits, aren’t able to afford hospital care in Alaska, that sounds like the sort of thing that might spur a policy response in Juneau next year.


4.  Podcast: Rep. Geran Tarr on Alaska politics

Rep. Geran Tarr represents the most diverse legislative district in the entire United States. That constituency gives her a unique view in the Alaska legislature, one that she brings to her role as Co-Chair of the House Resources Committee, and the Co-Chair for the House Working Group on Oil and Gas. Those are important and consequential roles.

She sat down with us for a podcast interview on the state of Alaska politics, ranging from taxes to health care to oil.  She’s also on our Agenda in two weeks, joining other Democrats on the 11:30 panel titled “Policy Leadership: Democrats.”

On her work on ACES and other social issues: “I wouldn’t say this is unique to Alaska, but on some of these issues you’re not going to see change overnight. And the political landscape, that’s a big challenge because people are in two year and four year cycles. And they want to be able to say at the end of the two years we accomplished this, or at the end of the four years we accomplished that, and some of these changes are going to take longer than that to make really make the progress.”


5.  Amazon, health care and Anchorage (?)

The news that Amazon will be looking for a second HQ spurred me to thinking about what it would look like if Amazon entered health care. It would likely come with an announcement as unexpected and as straightforward as the HQ2 announcement. I think Austin is likely the winner, but if Amazon could get the benefits that the oil industry gets, Anchorage would quickly rise to be a credible competitor.  Amazon brings a $5bn investment with 50,000 high wage jobs.

I lay out an 8-step strategy for Amazon to enter the health care space that I think – while certainly a big deal – is probably not nearly as hard for the giant corporation as entering the brick-and-mortar grocery space.  Which, as you know, they’ve done.  Amazon is already a health care giant, which would be one of the west coast’s largest carriers based on its employee count.  I recognize it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, employees to insured beneficiaries. Nevertheless, that’s 500,000 employees for which it already purchases care.