Legislative Democrats and Republicans discuss health care now and in the future

Six Alaska legislators sat down last week to discuss their observations on health care in Alaska for 2021, how the pandemic will impact health care legislation in 2022, and their visions for the future.

 

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Sen. Shelley Hughes, Majority Leader in the Alaska State Senate, and Reps. Ken McCarty and Mike Prax, both members of the House Health and Social Services Committee, represented the Republicans during their panel. Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, member of the Senate Health and Social Services Finance Subcommittee, Rep. Andy Josephson, Chair of the House Health and Social Services Finance Subcommittee, and Rep. Liz Snyder, Co-chair of the House Health and Social Services Committee, represented the Democrats.

Below are highlights from the presenters of both panels.

Policy Leadership: Republicans

  • Sen. Shelley Hughes said she would like to see efforts aimed at lowering the costs of drugs and medical treatments during the next legislative session. She specifically pointed to PBM reform as an area she is looking at.

“What we know in Alaska is that we are not only the highest cost state in the United States, but we are the highest cost location on the globe.”

  • Sen. Hughes also stressed the importance of ensuring price transparency so that patients can be better informed about their options when seeking care.
  • In response to a question about his views as a health care provider, Rep. McCarty said that rather than supporting government influence in the health care sector, he would prefer that reform efforts be led by free market concepts.
  • Rep. Prax agreed, saying, “I think that we would be much better off if we had more consumer choice rather than government mandate.”
  • Prax said that he would also like to see fewer services offered through Medicaid because he believes the current offerings increase the disconnect between providers and “passive consumers.”

“Consumers need to be more engaged in taking care of themselves, taking responsibility for their own health care, and not simply be passive consumers demanding that somebody else solve their problem for them.”

  • McCarty also said he would like to see fraud addressed in the health care industry. McCarty, a therapist himself, said he has seen instances of fraud first hand.

“As an example, I know that we had $25 million in inappropriate claims paid out, that was discovered in the audit. I know of providers that are charging, as an example, $1,200 for a procedure when I charge $80.”

Policy Leadership: Democrats

  • Rep. Andy Josephson said health care remains the largest item in the budget for next year due, in part, to the federal contribution to Medicaid. He said he has been advocating for behavioral health supports but the issue is being downplayed in the legislature.
  • As the finance subcommittee chair, he proposed extra money for behavioral health support on top of the $6 million in federal funds from CARES Act and ARPA .
  • During her comments, Rep. Snyder highlighted efforts by the legislature to secure funding for public health nurses, public assistance positions, and family service programs. According to Snyder, some of these moves survived the appropriations process.
  • Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson stated that Medicaid spending has been central to all the legislative activities, and that she is an advocate of maintaining funding for Medicaid during the next legislative session.

“I’m a very big advocate for maintaining Medicaid and even expanding it because we have so many citizens, and I don’t know the number, but it’s in the thousands within our community that depend on Medicaid.”

  • Gray-Jackson also added that she is working with the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee to alleviate issues surrounding health care staffing shortages.