U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, recently said she wants to hear from small business owners about the United States Senate’s health insurance repeal bill. Hopefully, she will read this.
My husband and I own an industrial supply company that has been operating in Alaska for 34 years. It is small. During that time we’ve had between 10 and 15 employees depending upon the economy.
Our company’s health care costs were rising dramatically long before the Affordable Health Care Act. We’ve had to be very creative to cover the increasing premiums of our employees. Currently, our company has an annual deductible of $5,000. To compensate for employees’ out of pocket expenses we cover about 75 percent of the deductible from our own self-insurance fund. Usually, it’s less expensive than having a lower deductible on our insurance plan.
Health care is a complex problem. Alaska has the highest health care costs in the world. Our trouble lies in a small population spread across our massive state and the resulting lack of competition in health care. Alaskans now frequently go outside to have procedures because the price of surgery, air fare and hotel is cheaper than getting it done in state.
Drug costs are extremely high, yet Congress won’t negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, European countries use many of the same drugs we do, but their governments negotiate volume discounts for their citizens. Are we Americans paying for the world’s health care drugs?
The Senate health care bill doesn’t offer any solutions to our real problems. The bill gives large tax cuts to wealthy Americans, to those same drug companies whose prices can be egregious and to the insurance industry that makes a profit off of our illness. To counter the tax cuts the Senate bill reduces Medicaid, the social program that provides health care to those of us with the least incomes in our communities.
The Senate bill ends the federal government’s commitment to pay for the cost of Medicaid Expansion. This means more than 34,000 Alaskans who have recently gained coverage will lose their health care. Research shows it will take $3.1 billion out of Alaska’s economy during that time.
Medicaid expansion has been positive for Alaska. According to the state, it has injected over $400 million into our economy through providers from September 2015 through May 2017. Since it’s 90 percent federally funded, the expansion saves the state of Alaska millions of dollars. Again the federal funding is financed by taxes on the wealthy and medically-related corporations. The federal money additionally offsets millions in state general fund spending which is sorely needed in our depressed economy.
Like all small businesses, we are impacted by the state of the overall economy. From this very basic perspective, the Senate health care bill will harm Alaska by cutting one of the few industries that is growing.
Multiple studies show Alaska will be more negatively impacted by this bill than any other state. Let me share something that you may not know. In Alaska, Medicaid alone pays for over 50 percent of all births. What happens when Medicaid funds are cut? Who won’t get care? What services will they cut? How will it impact your friends and family?
The Senate bill will also impact our health insurance. It eliminates “birth control without co-pay” and doesn’t require insurance to include coverage for prenatal and maternity care. The bill limits where women can get care by defunding Planned Parenthood. It doesn’t make sense to stop access to specialized reproductive care when Alaska has one of the highest sexually transmitted infection and rape rates in the country.
In the U.S., unlike other developed countries, much of the health care costs fall directly on business through health insurance they provide for their employees. It’s an added cost that keeps increasing and makes American products less competitive with foreign brands.
It’s a balancing act providing health care and keeping costs down. More uninsured people hurt all of us. Without preventative care more people get sick. Unpaid bills from emergency rooms and hospital beds end up costing all Americans more money by raising health care prices.
The Senate bill will kick 34,000 Alaskans off health care coverage. It would be far more logical to address the problems in the Affordable Care Act and improve it rather than gutting Medicaid.
I urge Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan to have the courage to oppose the Senate health care bill.
• Robin Smith is a 36-year resident of Anchorage and a small business owner.