What They’re Watching: Michael Humphrey, Alaska Railroad Corporation

Michael Humphrey, Manager of Benefits and Records at the Alaska Railroad Corporation, joins us in this edition of “What They’re Watching” to talk about the challenges of influencing health care in Alaska.

We’ve been talking about the cost of health care now for 20 years. “We can’t handle it anymore, it’s going up too fast, it’s whatever, it’s whatever, it’s whatever.” With the crash and the cost of a gallon of oil, the barrel of oil, that really impacted the state’s economy and got us to realize that we are spending a lot of money on health care. And you know, the State of Alaska with all of its public employees is really the 800-pound gorilla. If they want to change the health care market, they can change the health care market. They can do it.

Now as it’s been pointed out many times, there also can be subtle reverberations like throwing a pebble into a pool where the waves go out, you’re never quite sure where those waves are going to hit or who they’re going to hit. So, it’s been slow, it’s been political. Private employers are trying to do more to reshape health care than the State of Alaska’s doing but smaller group, individual groups, you know large employer has 200 to 300 people, a larger employer has 600 or 700 people. There aren’t that many employers that have 3500, 4000 employees. And with the geography of Alaska, those employees aren’t in just Fairbanks or just Anchorage or just Juneau, they’re spread across a geography that’s 20 percent the size of the lower 48. So, it’s hard to influence health care in Nome when you’ve got 15 people there. It’s hard to influence health care in Fairbanks when you’ve got 100 people there. You know, Anchorage a little bit more competitive market but it’s still hard to influence health care.