Palin unveils health goals

Governor wants to create commission to address availability, quality of care

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Sarah Palin has unveiled plans she says are aimed at improving the health and well-being of Alaskans.

Among goals announced Thursday is the creation of a commission to address availability and quality of health care across a state burdened by high medical costs because of its isolation and small population. There are no HMOs here or other significant managed health care that hold down prices in other states.

Palin said Thursday that Alaskans also must take personal responsibility for their level of health wherever they can, and not look to government to make them healthy. Before announcing her package of proposals Thursday, she noted that government is not the sole answer.

"There is no silver bullet," she said. "If there was a silver bullet defining and meeting the challenges in these areas, then other states, too, wouldn't be facing the challenges that Alaska faces. No state has that silver bullet."

Among goals detailed by Palin and administration officials are a $2 million pilot preschool program and development of a Web site effort called "Live Well Alaska" to offer suggestions in such health-related areas as diet and exercise as well as tips to quit smoking.

The preschool program will "help prepare our young students, some presently quite ill-equipped and prepared for K-12 education," Palin said. "It will help them intellectually, physically and socially be ready for K-12."

Other goals include spending $250,000 toward better access and screening and diagnosis of disorders such as autism.

Palin said she also will support expanding eligibility for Denali KidCare, a state health insurance program for underprivileged children and pregnant women.

The program, funded by federal and state money, would be available for families making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level instead of the current 175 percent. The higher level would be a return to the eligibility ceiling implemented by an earlier administration.

Asked why she opposed raising the eligibility to 200 percent last year - long before oil prices began plunging - Palin said she "supported the majority that did not want at that time that increase."

State Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, said last year's opposition by lawmakers was based on uncertainty about federal money. The federal government had not yet decided on continued funding and legislators did not want to be stuck shouldering the entire cost, she said.

"Now that we know that the federal government is going to put their 70 percent in, they will support 200" percent, she said. "What I say is, 200 is not enough."

With North Slope oil prices closing below $40 a barrel Thursday, Alaska's main revenue source continues to shrink. Palin said any costs for health proposals could be offset by cuts elsewhere.

Palin's proposed budget, to be released Dec. 15 in Juneau, "will stress fiscal conservatism," Palin said later in a prepared statement.

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