Universal health care bill falters

Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2008

An attempt to make sure every Alaskan has health care has faltered, its sponsor acknowledged to the Senate Finance Committee on Friday.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said Senate Bill 160, intended to mandate universal health care, passed through two Senate committees but won't have time to make it through the Legislature in its remaining days.

The 90-day legislative session is scheduled to end at midnight tonight, with crucial budget bills and dozens of other bills yet to be acted upon.

That's typical for the end of a session, but French said a complicated bill such as his is unlikely to win legislators' time in the remainder of this session.

French said he intends to bring the bill back next year.

Juneau Democratic Sen. Kim Elton, a member of the Finance Committee, said French made progress in trying to win approval this year, and that would help get the bill passed next session.

"The wonderful thing about having a debate like this, the more people you involve, the more good ideas you receive," Elton said.

French said businesses were increasingly getting behind health care reform efforts such as his, with the realization that Starbucks spends more money on health care than it does on coffee, and General Motors spends more on health care than it does steel.

"Corporate America, business America, has decided that something has to happen ... before it drives many good businesses out of business," he said.

French's bill would have required all Alaskans to have health insurance, but would have made affordable policies available, as well as vouchers to help some people purchase them.

A bigger pool of people buying insurance would help lower costs, as would hospitals no longer having to pass along to paying customers the cost of treating those without insurance in emergency rooms.

"You get the price of health insurance down where everyone can buy it," French said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgeyat 586-4816 or e-mail patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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