5 Things Alaska: Becky Hultberg, Budget decisions, Medical tourism

While we cover the legislative budget cuts in this issue, we are also connecting dots with Alaska to the Outside, notably Oregon and Mexico. We’re also finalizing our list of speakers for our 2019 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference coming up in 5 weeks. So, lots of moving parts in Alaska health care for the month of August, 2019.


DJ 5 Things Signature

With help from Emily Boerger



1. Hultberg leaving Alaska; Prov buys CareOregon

Becky Hultberg is leaving her role as CEO of ASHNHA and is heading to Oregon to lead the hospital association there. It’s a significant gain for Oregon, but a real loss for health policy in the state, where Hultberg was among the more prominent, thoughtful advocates both behind the scenes and in front of them.

In other news connecting Alaska and Oregon, last week Providence announced their acquisition of CareOregon, the state’s largest Medicaid health plan. The addition gives Prov a significant tool to manage risk in the Medicaid space, something it has worked to begin in Alaska Medicaid.


2. “Don Quixote” goes to Washington DC

National Democratic figures are laying the ground work for health reform policy in a new administration, hoping that the 2020 election will swing their way. One of the quieter but perhaps more influential players in this discussion is former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. He spoke at our conference back in 2016. He has been quietly convening key federal policy advocates, both in public and privately, relying on some of the key figures that helped land the $1.9bn in waiver funds in 2012.

I spent a few days with Gov. Kitzhaber on a recent trip to DC as he was trying to focus the opinion of DC insiders away from a solution, and towards a better understanding of the problem. “Medicare for All is really a financing mechanism. And, if we don’t reform the underlying delivery system, the way we finance it won’t get at the root problems of quality in health care.”

3. Detailed Agenda out next week

Next week, we’ll release our list of speakers lined up for our 2019 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference. It’s a very good list with some of the most thoughtful folks in Alaska health care coming to speak. And, with eight of these events under our belt, I can tell you this ninth one may be the strongest agenda we’ve ever put together.

So, if you haven’t gotten you and your executive team registered to join about 300 of your closest friends in Alaska health care, you should sign them up today! You can also scan the list of about 125 organizations that joined us last year for a sense of the type of folks in the room on October 2nd.

4. Final legislative budget decisions

Governor Dunleavy announced his final decisions on the state operating budget last week through the enactment and line-item vetoes of HB 2001. Dunleavy’s latest decision restores some of the funds he originally vetoed in June, but sustains the majority of vetoes related to health programs.

In this piece, Emily Boerger breaks down the funding for health and social services that was either re-vetoed or restored. They include cuts to Medicaid, adult public assistance, and behavioral health grants. The changes also include restored funding for Human Services Community Matching Grant programs and the Alaska Senior Benefits Payment Program.


5. “Medical Tourism: An Alaskan’s Adventure”

If you only know about the price of Alaska health care services in theory rather than in practice, this story is a compelling one. Cale Green fell off his bike and broke his collarbone. He was told he needed surgery. But before he got the procedure, he asked about pricing – and then recorded the experience.

It’s a textbook example of what consumers face in Alaska: incomplete information, incorrect information, and pricing that is magnitude’s higher than elsewhere. So, ultimately Green worked with an organization, BridgeHealth, that helped him find the procedure in Mexico. Green said it was “three to seven times more expensive” in Alaska compared to Mexico, depending on whether you go to Alaska Regional or Providence.