5 Things Alaska: Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, Veto overrides, Julie Sande

DJ is taking a well-deserved vacation, so I’m bringing you this edition of 5 Things We’re Watching. I’m the senior reporter here at State of Reform, where I’m usually covering health care in Alaska and a number of other states. Feel free to email me any feedback or tips on what you think we should be covering.

DJ will be back for the next edition, but until then, here’s what we’re watching in Alaska health care!

Emily Boerger
State of Reform


1. Q&A: Rep. Ivy Spohnholz

Representative Ivy Spohnholz represents Alaska’s 16th House District and currently serves as the Co-Chair of the House Health & Social Services Committee. She is also a member of the Health & Social Services Finance Subcommittee.

Prior to the start of the second special session, I caught up with Rep. Spohnholz to discuss the status of potential veto overrides, the process of putting together the health care budget, and health care challenges in Alaska. “[Session] absolutely feels different this year. I think that, you know, the legislature has been remarkably united in its concerns about Governor Dunleavy’s reckless approach to our budget,” says Spohnholz in the Q&A.


2. Veto override votes and health care funding

On Monday, lawmakers announced there will be a joint floor session today at 11:30 am for legislators to vote for or against the over $400 million in line-item vetoes from the governor. The legislature needs 45 votes to override the vetoes, and with lawmakers split between Juneau and Wasilla, it is unclear if there will be enough votes.

The list of health care-related vetoes include: a $50 million reduction to Medicaid with a veto for the Medicaid Adult Preventative Dental benefit, elimination of the Senior Benefits Program, an additional $6.1 million cut to behavioral health grants, a $7.2 million reduction for the homeless assistance program, and a $7.5 million reduction for adult public assistance. Follow along with the action in today’s meeting here.

3. “Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019”

U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray recently introduced the “Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.” The bipartisan bill includes 54 different proposals from 65 senators (36 Democrats and 29 Republicans), all aimed at lowering the cost of health care. Sen. Murkowski was involved in securing several provisions included in the bill.

Key proposals include ending the practice of surprise billing, reducing the prices of prescription drugs, increasing cost transparency, and improving public health. The bill recently passed out of committee on a 20-3 vote, and Alexander says he will urge Senate leadership to bring it to the floor for a vote before the end of this month. Check out our rundown of the committee hearing and what’s included in the bill here.

4. Video: Julie Sande, Ketchikan Pioneer Home

Julie Sande is the Administrator at Ketchikan Pioneer Home. She joins us in this edition of “What They’re Watching” to discuss retaining rural workforce and quality of care.

“I think that there’s a lot more opportunities for coordination between both health care organizations and also the community. So, we just won’t have the opportunity, maybe, to have all of the different service lines available in each hospital or each community, but instead, [we can look at] what ways we can partner with one another, so that it’s mutually beneficial, but then also it’s the best thing for the patient.”


5. Amanda Makki running for US House in FL

Amanda Makki is running for Congress in Florida’s 13th District. Alaska federal policy folks will recall Makki previously served as Sen. Murkowski’s health care policy legislative aide during the ACA debate. She was on the senator’s staff for almost eight years. Makki later served as Director of External Affairs and FDA Legislation for Novo Nordisk. She recently left a position as partner at K&L Gates.

Makki is smart, well respected, and well connected in Washington DC. She’s earning some good “buzz” in her primary race to take on Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist in the general. Makki recently announced that she’s raised $220k in her first 30 days, an impressive number for a first time candidate.