“Juneau’s health care tops the nation,” reads the headline. It is serendipitous that the report appears on April Fool’s Day. We’ve all been taken, but it’s no joke. I believe the cost is what it is for political and corporate interest, which are rather intertwined these days.
Unlike a single-player “public option,” which would be similar to Medicare and cut costs for our healthcare services, private insurance companies and pharmaceutical industries profit significantly under the Affordable Care Act. The ACA is a good first step toward universal healthcare and probably the only one that could have made it through Congress, with the influence of corporate lobbying and campaign funding being what it is.
Now why would the situation in Alaska and particularly in Juneau be so expensive? A significant portion of Juneau’s economy is government, with federal, state and local employees all provided with excellent health insurance covering physicians, dentists and optometrists. These service providers can get away with charging just about whatever they choose. Self-employed fishermen, also important to Juneau’s economy, had been out of luck before the passage of ACA.
A decade ago, I read an article in the Empire that stated dentistry was more expensive in Juneau than any other city in the U.S. That included New York City and Honolulu. Many Juneauites without insurance traveled to Whitehorse to have their dental work done and save money. I found it was cheaper to pay round-trip airfare to Bellingham, Wash. and see the same dentist my daughter does.
To make things worse for Alaska patients, there are only a couple of insurance companies doing business in our state. With basically no competition, premiums are higher than anywhere else.
Politically, we have a governor who rejected Medicaid expansion, as did Republican governors across the nation. In Alaska, this left approximately 40,000 low-income individuals and families with no healthcare options except seeking services at hospital emergency rooms, a costly and limited resource.
As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I offer a sliding gee scale to clients who struggle financially. I don’t want anyone who feels the need for mental health services to go without because of political and corporate profits.
What can you, the public, do? Inform yourself about your Assembly members, state legislators and Congressional representatives in Washington, D.C. What are the bills they are proposing? What are the ordinances they are seeking to pass or vote down? How are they going after cuts in health and social services? How are they undermining healthy recreational activities? How are they undermining women’s family planning and prenatal needs? Who are the legislators supporting and fighting for funding all these public needs? Citizens can do as television journalism Bill Moyers urges, “Testify at hearings, write letters to the editor, make phone calls, volunteer as you can for candidates who truly represent the public interest. And vote.”
Recent voter turnout in Juneau has been despicable for both primary and general elections. It needs to, at least, double. We can do it.
• Dixie Hood is a Juneau resident, has taught Psychology at the University of Alaska, has provided mental health services for state, local agencies and private practices, and ran as a candidate for the CBJ Assembly.