By Senator Johnny Ellis
October 15, 2007
In the last year, the legislature took two important steps to improve the health care system. First, we doubled the number of spots reserved for Alaskans at the University of Washington medical school through the WWAMI program. Secondly, I worked with Sen. Bettye Davis (D-Anchorage) to increase the income cap for Denali KidCare to 200 percent of the 2007 federal poverty level. The cap had eroded by 25 percent since the last update in 2003.
However, serious issues remain. That is why Sen. Hollis French , Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), and I have put forward a proposal that will give Alaskans reliable access to affordable health care. Our plan subsidizes health insurance for all Alaskans under 100 percent of the federal poverty level, and provides assistance on a sliding scale for those whose income is up to 300 percent. All Alaskans will be required to carry a health insurance plan that covers basic needs, and employers who do not offer health insurance to their employees will pay into a fund to help the state provide it.
This is not socialized medicine - in fact, if you are happy with your current insurance, you are not required to change a thing. It will make access to health care possible for the estimated 60,000 working Alaskans who are currently uninsured, and has the potential to lower costs for all Alaskans by promoting preventative care and reducing the number of uninsured patients whose costs are covered by us all.
For more information, Sen. French has created a Web site, www.healthyalaskans.com, which covers the bill and its potential effects. The bill, SB160, had its first hearing in a joint meeting of the Senate Labor and Commerce and Health, Education and Social Services Committees last month. We heard from national health policy experts from the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, local health care providers, small business owners, the insurance industry and everyday Alaskans.
I was encouraged by the positive attitude of all our stakeholders and their willingness to work together to find a solution to this difficult problem. I am pleased with the small steps the legislature took this past year. But all Alaskans still deserve dependable access to affordable health care. I am hopeful next year's Legislature will take a giant leap forward by adopting SB160.
About: Senator Johnny Ellis represents downtown and midtown Anchorage and chairs the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.
Received October 15, 2007 - Published October 15, 2007
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