Interview with Lt. Gov Treadwell | Polling in Senate race | Congress moving on HIT

This month, there is considerable impact on Alaska health care coming from the federal side of the policy ledger.  Even Congress is moving a bi-partisan bill with real implications for the health care sector.

In addition to Congress, there is a surge in enrollment at Healthcare.gov, and a US Senate race starting to take shape.  What’s happening at the federal level has definitely caught our eye for this month’s “5 Things We’re Watching.”

DJ 5 things updated

1. Our interview with Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell

We recently sat down with Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell in what he called his longest interview on health care ever.  But, we didn’t stay there.  We got into the weeds on things ranging from “mental health first aid” to the loss of his wife and one of his children, and what is one of the most closely watched US Senate races in the country.

Lt. Gov. Treadwell was very gracious with his time, with the result available for you to read in a four part series. 

2. Arkansas expansion option faces political reality 

When you hear the Parnell administration talk about Medicaid expansion, one of the things you’ll hear is their interest in Arkansas’s “Private Option Demonstration.”   It provides one road map for how Alaska might get low-income individuals covered outside of the Medicaid expansion model of the ACA.

However, even with the waiver in place, it appears the Arkansas experiment may get derailed.  It takes 75% of the legislature to appropriate money there, and while the “private option” has significant bi-partisan support, “getting 75% under any situation is difficult.”  It’s an interesting model, and one with possible implications for Alaska as it reviews its options for reforming Medicaid.  Let’s see if it moves forward.

onehealthport

3. Feds driving IT interoperability by 2017 in new law 

Like many policy areas in health care, policy related to health information exchange is easier to envision than to implement.  The Alaska eHealth Network – like it’s predecessor organization, the Alaska Telehealth Advisory Council (1996-2005) –  has been “actively working on adoption of… private, secure health information exchange (HIE) since 2005.”  Sum total of hospitals signed up to the network after all this time:  six.  That’s more an observation of reality than any criticism.

However, Congress is working on language that could drive greater interoperability by 2017.  Because it’s wrapped up in the Medicare “doc fix” bill, likely to be passed by Congress in March, the interoperability language is likely become law.

4. New polling shows tight US Senate race

In a poll released earlier this month, US Senator Mark Begich held leads over each of the Republican candidates trying to unseat him.  However, his overall numbers were below the significant threshold of 50%, ranging from 41 to 45% depending on the opposition candidate.

That may be enough to win, however.  If a third party candidate from the right appears on the ballot this November, even a number like 38 or 39% could be enough for Begich to retain the Senate seat.

5.   Healthcare.gov enrollment up 51% in January

HHS reported 1,726 individuals enrolled in qualified health plans on the insurance exchange in January, up 51% since the end of 2013.  That puts the total number of Alaskans enrollees on the exchange at 5,082.

This ‘surge’ in enrollment is being seen nationally, as well, though many expect an even greater level of registration to occur before the final open enrollment deadline of March 31st.  Stay tuned.