Countdown for Obamacare enrollment | Medicaid reform | Holt joins APS

The purpose of “5 Things We’re Watching” is to provide a snapshot of things we think are important for senior health care leaders to be aware of.

Currently, we’re watching the final “March Madness” push to enroll people in coverage through the insurance marketplaces.  Efforts appear to be strong in Alaska, where signups were pretty lackluster during the first five months of open enrollment.

We’re also keeping an eye on the state’s ongoing discussion about Medicaid reform, which is not likely to include a turn toward Medicaid expansion anytime soon.  It’s not easy to predict where it’s headed, but we’re watching closely to see how it all unfolds.

DJ 5 things updated

1. Clock is ticking on Obamacare signups

With the March 31 enrollment deadline looming, the rush is on to get more people to sign up for marketplace health plans.  CMS officials said this week that more than 5 million people have enrolled in the past five and half months, including a surge of 800,000 signups in the first half of March.

About 6,600 Alaskans had enrolled in plans through by the end of February, according to HHS.  That’s about 5 percent of the nearly 140,000 Alaskans who are uninsured and eligible.  A number of organizations, including the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, are making a final push in the next ten days to get the word out.  But clearly there is still a long way to go.

2. Attention returns to Medicaid reform

Gov. Parnell has named nine Alaskans to serve on a Medicaid Reform Advisory Group chaired by HHS Commissioner Bill Streur.  The group has been tasked to “engage stakeholders” and to submit a final report to the Legislature no later than Nov. 15.

Meanwhile, HHS officials say they have reached out to Parnell to urge him to reconsider his decision to not expand Medicaid in Alaska. But it looks unlikely that he’ll reverse himself as long as fellow Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Coghill (one of the nine people named to the Medicaid advisory group) also continue to oppose Medicaid expansion.


3. Annie Holt joins Alaska Physicians & Surgeons 

We were interested to learn that healthcare veteran Annie Holt has become the new executive director of Alaska Physicians and Surgeons, Inc., a member organization based in Anchorage that represents 157 physicians and lobbies on healthcare-related legislation in Juneau.

Holt retired at the end of 2013 after 37 years working for HCA Healthcare, the parent company of Alaska Regional Hospital, where she had been CEO since 2009.  She was replaced by Julie Taylor, former CEO of West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell, Idaho.

Holt told us her new position at APS began on March 1 and is part-time. “I enjoy working with physicians,” she said.  “This gives me a chance to work with the physician side of healthcare.” We wish her well.

4. Healthcare funding slashed in House-passed budget

The Alaska House of Representatives approved a $9.1 billion operating budget last week that is $53 million less than Gov. Parnell’s recommended budget and reduces general fund spending by about 13 percent compared to the current year.

The cuts include a 60-percent reduction in funding for the SHARP-II program that subsidizes doctors’ salaries in an effort to recruit them to work with under-served or rural populations. Parnell’s budget had included full funding for the program at $2 million.

Dozens of healthcare organizations have testified against the cuts to SHARP-II and other programs.  They have another chance before the Senate Finance Committee this week.

5.   The cost/benefit analysis of legalizing marijuana in Alaska

If Alaska is searching for more revenue, it might look to Colorado, where sales of recreational marijuana have begun bringing millions of dollars in taxes and fees into state coffers each month.

Alaskans will vote in August on a ballot initiative that could legalize recreational marijuana. Alaska officials recently verified that the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has gathered more than enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

But eight state agencies claim that legalizing pot would cost the state between $3.7 million and $7 million in the first year for implementation and enforcement.  They did not estimate the amount of tax revenue that could be generated.