Palin seeking study of state's health care system

Posted: Friday, February 16, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin has ordered a review of the state's health care system, a job she will entrust to an unpaid ad-hoc task force.

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Palin said she'll assemble the Alaska Health Care Strategies Planning Council - made up of lawmakers, members of the health care industry and community leaders - by next month.

She wants the group to review studies, practices and the state's policies, then submit a report by January, 2008.

The report will then become a guide for lawmakers looking to shape policy.

"The need for the state to inventory the programs out there now, to inventory the potential fixes is so paramount," Palin said. "I think that has been lacking in the past administration.

"We owe it to the public to make sure there is adequate levels of funding. If there has to be an increase, then we'll deal with that when the facts come in."

Driving the change is the need for the state to rid itself of unflattering distinctions as one of the nation's worst in areas such as alcohol abuse, Palin said.

Health officials and lawmakers say the state ranks first or among the top in categories including domestic violence, suicide, child abuse and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Karleen Jackson, the state's health and social services commissioner, said this advisory council will be asked to produce a four-part plan that features an overarching description of the health care system, an analysis of private and public health care plans, short- and long-term plans to improve health care access and costs, and performance and accountability measures.

"As we look at the system, we come up with bills to make things better and policies to try to change things, but if we don't look at the system as a whole, we have unintended consequences," Jackson said. "This provides a way for us to put all those pieces together and come up with a system."

Jackson said the state is ultimately seeking widespread change.

"Over time we can accomplish wholesale changes, but they are going to be in small, incremental steps," Jackson said. "What we want is one system of health care for Alaska, not parallel issues."

Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, who chairs the House's Health Education and Social Services Committee, said she likes Palin's plan.

"We've done studies before, but never pulled them all together," she said. "Every department looks at things in their own silo independent from each other.

"If we pool our money and resources together, we'll get a lot more done. But, it's going to take a lot of thought to do that."

The governor's council and the expected plan could lead to more proactive lawmaking, said Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage.

"We have problems that need to be worked on and need to be worked on now," said Davis, who chairs the Senate's Health Education and Social Services Committee. "If citizens in the community bring to us the issues rather than us creating them ourselves we might be able to come up with moneys to fund them."



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