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Knowles Outlines Measures For Health Care For The Uninsured
Calls for National Action to Address Looming Health Care Crisis


May 21, 2004

Anchorage, AK ­ Saying mounting health care costs and lack of affordable health insurance are among the top issues facing Alaska and the nation, US Senate candidate Tony Knowles on Monday offered his proposals to address this growing problem. Knowles spoke about the issue at a community health fair in the Mountain View section of Anchorage at the culmination of national "Cover the Uninsured Week."

"In the most prosperous, industrialized country in the world, with the best available health care and the highest per capita health care spending, we are woefully behind in caring for our citizens," Knowles said. "An accident, a chronic illness, a devastating disease can destroy your savings along with your health. Health insurance remains the single best vaccination against the physical, mental, financial and human cost of an assault against our health. Unfortunately, our nation is just as unprepared to deal with this growing problem as is the uninsured family hit by a sudden life-threatening illness."

Knowles said the magnitude of this problem is staggering:

  • Nearly 44 million Americans are uninsured ­ 15 percent of the population; including 109,000 Alaskans that have no health insurance ­ 18 percent of Alaska's population.
  • More than 25,000 Alaska children and 9 million American children are uninsured ­ 12 percent of the 18-and-under population.
  • Nationwide, 58 percent of employers provide insurance. In Alaska, less than 46 percent of employers and only 32 percent of small businesses provide insurance.
  • Faced with higher insurance costs, business is shifting the burden to employees through higher premiums and bigger deductibles. Losing your job usually means losing insurance and health care costs and insurance premiums are rising ­ outstripping inflation and wage growth.

"The uninsured are our neighbors, relatives, friends, and even co-workers, and Washington DC could solve the problem if they wanted to," Knowles said. "For years, Congress has shown no such inclination. I'm not satisfied to sit by while Washington applies a bandage to a deep festering wound in our health system. I applaud the sponsors of Cover the Uninsured Week for putting this issue in the spotlight and stressing the need for action.

"Lack of insurance is a big problem, but it is solvable. I know because, as governor, we took positive steps to cover Alaska's uninsured. There's a lot more we can do, as a country and a society with a moral imperative to consider the needs of a huge segment of the population," Knowles said. Programs and proposals suggested by Knowles:

EXPAND DENALI KIDCARE which brought No-Cost coverage to 30,000 children and pregnant women, using federal Child Health Insurance Program funds with state management and match. "Denali KidCare covered kids at 200 percent of the federal poverty level until last year when the Murkowski administration tightened eligibility to exclude hundreds of lower middle class Alaska families. Now, Alaska has the dubious distinction of being among a few states cutting kids," Knowles said.

EXPAND MEDICAID and MEDICARE to cover a large segment of the uninsured through buy-ins and expanded eligibility. "As governor, we expanded Medicaid eligibility in rural Alaska ," Knowles said. "How ironic that we arrange to cover uninsured children through programs like Denali KidCare, but leave their low-income parents without coverage of their health care needs. Let's bring them into the Medicaid system. Medicare still needs reform to allow Americans to buy into the Medicare system at age 55."

ENCOURAGE MORE COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS to provide primary care to the uninsured. These clinics charge based on ability to pay and 40 percent of their patients are uninsured. We need to keep the doors open at these federally funded centers and expand their reach.

ALLOW BUSINESS TAX CREDITS that provide incentives to companies to offer health insurance to their workers. This tax offset would make employee insurance affordable for small business and the self-employed.

COMMON INSURANCE POOLS would create large groups to spread the risk and provide comprehensive affordable insurance plans to small business and the self-employed. Existing government insurance plans should open their doors to buy-ins by others. The health plan Congress gives itself should be good enough for the rest of American citizens.

LOWER HEALTH CARE and DRUG COSTS by streamlining public and private health care bureaucracy and exploring ways to reduce medical costs. "We lowered drug costs at Pioneer Homes through bulk purchase agreements," Knowles said. "We can do this nationwide once we get rid of government restrictions on negotiating prices with drug companies. We can stop drug price-gouging by permitting drug imports from Canada ; ending tax deductions on drug advertising; and requiring that medicine developed at taxpayer expense be sold at reasonable prices."

SUPPORT VOLUNTEER HEALTH CARE PROVIDER NETWORKS like one being organized in Anchorage as a stopgap measure until Washington embraces a systemic solution. "The Anchorage Access to Health Care Coalition is recruiting doctors to each provide free services to a dozen uninsured residents annually," Knowles said. "We should applaud these volunteer physicians and return the favor with tax credits. They and the sponsors of this Anchorage effort recognize the problem is so serious that it can't wait for a federal fix."

Knowles said we can neutralize the cost of covering the uninsured, in part, by ending tax breaks for the super-rich, reducing medical and drug costs, creating larger common insurance pools and letting the uninsured buy into existing programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

"Many prestigious, non-partisan scientific and research organizations in America have recognized that one of the most serious ills in our health care system is that so many Americans live outside the system ­ without insurance and without care," Knowles concluded. "I've offered a blueprint for success in dealing with the problem. We've taken steps in Alaska toward better and broader health coverage. Our prosperous nation can and should do more before the lack of health insurance devastates any more working families. I believe health care is a right ­ not a luxury, not a privilege and not an issue to ignore any longer. Let's take care of Americans and Alaskans - including the uninsured."


Source of News Release:

Tony Knowles for US Senate Campaign
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