5 Things Alaska: UnitedHealthcare, Natasha Pineda, health system performance

DJ is taking a much needed vacation, so I’m bringing you this edition of 5 Things We’re Watching. I’m usually covering health policy in Alaska and several other states. DJ will be back next month, but until then, here’s what we’re watching in Alaska health care for June.


Kylie Walsh
State of Reform

1.  Three takeaways from United’s MCO proposal

UnitedHealthcare was selected as the Managed Care Organization (MCO) for the Medicaid Coordinated Care Demonstration Project. I read through all 93 pages of United’s proposal and found three main takeaways, including projected savings of $47.9m in the first three years.

Surprisingly, United was the only MCO to submit a proposal. The Provider-Based Reform model received three proposals, with Providence Family Medical Center selected. I’ll be diving into those proposals for next month’s email, so stay tuned.

2.  Division of Insurance seeking input to drive down costs

The Division of Insurance is accepting comments until June 30 on two topics. The division is seeking proposals of amendments or alternatives to the 80th percentile rule, focusing on alternatives that address the potential impacts on the cost of care and protect consumers from surprise balance billing. A recent report by the University of Alaska found that the 80th percentile rule likely has driven up costs.

The division is also asking small business employers to complete a survey to identify issues and barriers to affordable coverage. This is the first step towards applying for a second 1332 Innovation Waiver to address costs in the small group market. Premiums in the small group market have increased by an average of more than 31 percent over the past two years.

3.  Anchorage’s new DHHS director

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has appointed Natasha Pineda as the new director of the Department of Health and Human Services. She starts in the role on July 9th, taking over the position from Melinda Freemon who was appointed back in 2014 by former Mayor Sullivan.

Natasha worked for the Municipality as the community and family services division manager at DHHS before moving to the State Department of Administration as a deputy health official. She told us that in her new role “We will be focusing on the three Ps of public health: prevent, protect and promote.”

4.  Alaska’s suicide rate nearly double national average

recent report by the CDC shows that the national suicide rate increased by over 25 percent from 1999 to 2016. Alaska’s suicide rate increased by 37.4 percent during that time period.

Alaska’s suicide rate has remained nearly double the national rate since 1999. In 2016, the national average was 15.4 per 100,000. Alaska had the second highest suicide rate in the nation at 28.8 per 100,000. The suicide rate among Alaska Natives was 43.4, almost triple the national average.

5.  Alaska’s health system performance

The Commonwealth Fund released its 2018 Scorecard on State Health System Performance. Alaska ranks 34rd in the nation and is only above the national average in one major category — avoidable hospital use and cost.

Alaska ranks last in the nation for adults without a usual source of care and for home health patients without improved mobility. The state also saw a worsening of health disparities, falling 16 rankings. You can explore the data here.