JUNEAU - A sleeper amendment in the federal health care bill gives states like Alaska the option of supplementing federal Medicare payments to physicians and other health care providers.
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich got the language attached to the final Senate health care bill in late December.
The House of Representatives adopted the Senate-passed bill with Begich's amendment on March 21 and President Barack Obama signed it into law March 23.
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, proposed legislation last year that would set up a state grant program assisting Alaska seniors who are unable to get health care under Medicare. The bill is now being redrafted to reflect the opportunities presented by the new federal law, Gara's office said. A new version of Gara's bill, House Bill 178, will be introduced soon.
Gara said he believes a state grant program that supplements Medicare with $20 or $30 per office visit would allow many clinics to at least break even, and a program that pays $60 or $70 as a supplemental payment would allow them to make profit.
State officials are cautious in their reactions to the amendment. Speaking on background, one administration official said the language and intent of the amendment is still being reviewed along with the full federal health care bill.
The problem will only get worse because health care costs are rising fast in Alaska, at rates of 15 percent a year according to state estimates, and senior citizen populations are growing fast, as well.