Alaska editorial: State's actions on health care disappointing

Posted: Friday, April 25, 2008

Gov. Sarah Palin started the year looking as if she was going to tackle tough health care problems head-on.

The plain fact is, she didn't.

The governor did not get behind the most significant piece of health legislation offered - a proposal to ensure that all residents have health insurance, without disrupting the coverage that many Alaskans already have.

She did not even support a modest expansion of the state health insurance program for children of working families.

Rather than stand on the sidelines, if the governor doesn't agree with the approaches offered by others to get more Alaskans covered by health insurance, she could come up with her own.

But she can't rely on platitudes such as fixing the system by having individuals take more responsibility for their own health care. Or solutions that don't work for lower-income folks.

The governor's own major piece of health legislation, to set up a state health commission that would evaluate the state's health care needs and create a state Web site with consumer information, will not immediately solve major problems. It's a good idea anyway. But it didn't get very far in the legislative process.

It might have, if it hadn't been tied to the governor's dubious proposal to eliminate "certificates of need," in which health care facilities have to justify adding certain facilities.

The only measure with far-reaching consequences for health care that made it through the Legislature is construction of a new health sciences building at UAA, and expansion of university health programs.

The Legislature included $46 million to construct the building, which is intended to house the nursing school and WWAMI, a joint UAA-University of Washington medical school program for Alaska students, as well as other health programs.

The university also got a $2.3 million increase in the operating budget to add classes in nursing and other health careers.

Those are excellent additions. They will help Alaska meet increasing health care demands as our population of senior citizens doubles and triples in coming years.

But we expected more of both the governor and the Legislature.

Why?

Last year the governor created a high-profile Health Care Strategies Planning Council.

The council set a number of goals, including lowering health care costs for Alaskans, making quality health care accessible to all Alaskans, and increasing the number of Alaskans covered by health insurance.

One of the most concrete recommendations of this council was to expand the state children's health insurance program, to extend it to more low income families.

It all sounded good. It sounded like the beginning of a health care policy by a leader far more enlightened than the last governor.

Yet we saw little to no progress toward any of those goals.



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