SOLDOTNA - Fran Ulmer and Frank Murkowski laid out their plans for health care in Alaska on Thursday.
Speaking at the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association's statewide conference in Soldotna, the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor talked about fighting rising drug costs and improving services, such as long-term care for seniors and telemedicine.
Ulmer pledged that as governor, she would join with other states and several major corporations trying to reform national drug patent laws to make generic drugs more available. The state's Medicaid program could save $1.5 million a year if the reforms are successful, Ulmer said.
Murkowski said he'd use state government's leverage as Alaska's largest purchaser of pharmaceutical products to win drug discounts.
Ulmer held up Denali KidCare, initiated by the Knowles administration in 1999, as an example of success in spreading health care to needy Alaskans. The program provides health insurance to children of the working poor.
Murkowski said he'd continue Denali KidCare if elected and pointed out that he worked to create and pass the federal insurance program that allowed KidCare to be funded.
Both predicted the shortage of skilled health care workers will worsen as the baby boom generation hits retirement.
"We can't just stumble into the future," Ulmer said.
Ulmer said telemedicine, which uses Internet technology to let specialists examine patients from a great distance, could flourish.
"Let's face it, the difference between delivering services in Rhode Island and Alaska is pretty dramatic," she said.
Murkowski said he would push for land grants for the University of Alaska to provide income for expanding medical-training programs. He also said he would appoint health-care professionals to the Alaska Workforce Investment Board to help it address medical-staff shortages.
"It is inexcusable that the state does not give patient-level health professionals a voice on this board," he said.
Murkowski also called for tort reform - limits on lawsuit awards - to lower insurance costs in the state.
"I will work closely with the Legislature to craft meaningful tort-reform legislation that guarantees access to courts for all aggrieved parties - but brings sanity to litigation and damage awards," he said.