Governor to release health-care proposal

Some in planning group doubt much will be changed

Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A state commission that has spent months looking into how to provide Alaskans better health care is set to release a preliminary plan next week, in time for consideration during next year's legislative session.

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Southeast Alaska members of the commission, appointed by Gov. Sarah Palin, are questioning, however, whether they'll be able to accomplish much at all.

"We have identified several problems that may be fixable," said Dr. Bob Urata of Juneau, a member of the Alaska Health Care Strategies Planning Council.

Urata said he doubted they'd be able to implement, or even decide on, the sweeping changes that some think are necessary.

"I think it is going to take more effort on either the behalf of this committee or another committee," he said.

State Rep. Peg Wilson, R-Wrangell, the other Southeast member of the planning group, agreed.

"I think there are things we can do, but how much we can do, I don't know," she said.

The planning council has spent the last six months holding regular meetings, looking at the existing health-care situation and developing a strategy for the future.

Urata said the big changes Alaska needs might not be possible with such a short time period to study the issue.

"I don't think we are going to be able to come up with a substantial answer," he said.

Some bills currently in the Legislature may help, he said, such as a proposal by Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, that would try to ensure that everyone in the state is covered by insurance.

That plan, and another by Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, in the House of Representatives, doesn't go as far as some universal coverage proposals, however.

"They will take some steps toward coverage for those who aren't covered," he said.

Wilson said what she'd heard so far convinced her that universal coverage wasn't workable.

"We'd all like that, but the cost for that is so huge," she said.

In fact, in Alaska, a lack of insurance isn't always the biggest problem, she said. In some cases, access to medical care was not available even for those with insurance. Sometimes insurance deductibles were so high they blocked access even for those with coverage.

"Paying for insurance for everybody isn't the best way to do it," Wilson said. "I think everybody was surprised about that."

Urata said they also were looking at ways to reduce health care costs, such as tackling the state's obesity problem.

"We've identified obesity as a major issue in Alaska," Urata said. "Diet and lack of activity are a problem."

The council will be presented with a preliminary plan Monday and hold a public hearing on it in the afternoon, with written information about it accepted until Dec. 10.

After that the revised plan will be circulated and approved electronically by the council members, said Greg Wilkinson, spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Services.

Palin's executive order creating the council calls for the final plan to be presented to the governor by Jan. 1, in time for the Jan. 15 legislative session.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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