Some Alaskans Relieved By Health Care Ruling

While the Parnell Administration is strongly condemning the Supreme Court’s health care ruling, some Alaskans had a different take when they heard the news.

Vicki Penwell was asleep at 6:15 this morning when a series of texts from her mom starting coming in. “Are you up?” Her mom wrote. “Have you seen the news?” She continued, “Upheld in full.”

“We started the cheer at that point,” Penwell said.

Penwell, from Nebesna, is a volunteer with the National Patient Advocate Foundation, an organization that pushed for the Affordable Care Act. She says Alaskans may not be seeing the benefits of the law yet, but they will.

“This is just going to allow thousands of uninsured and under insured Alaskans to get health care coverage that will allow them to afford just routine preventative screenings,” Penwell said.

Penwell’s son was born with Cystic Fibrosis and she says since he turned 18, he’s hasn’t been able to get health insurance. She says that means he can’t get the preventative treatments necessary to keep him from having to make frequent trips to the hospital. Getting health insurance for more Alaskans has been a big priority for Democratic Senator Hollis French, from Anchorage. French says the law is good for Alaskans.

“It really does help those folks who are sick because you can’t be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition. It will help the 115,000 people who would like to buy a policy but can’t afford one find a private policy that works to their benefit,” French said.

The law calls on states to develop health insurance exchanges to make it easy for consumers to find good health care plans. Alaska has taken minimal steps towards implementing an exchange. The state is supposed to have one up and running by 2014, but French isn’t worried about that timeline.

“You know I think most states are behind the curve on this and we’re not alone. It will be a project to get an exchange up and running in time, but I think it’s achievable,” he said.

Hospitals across the state have been quietly implementing various aspects of the health care law. And Karen Perdue, President of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association says she was relieved by today’s Supreme Court ruling.

“We have been feeling like the train has already left the station in regards to a lot of the efforts in the law. So we’re kind of happy to see that there’s some settling. At least on the courts part,” Perdue said.

Perdue says the federal government has been issuing new regulations monthly since the health care law passed.

“So in our industry which is comprised of thousands of moving parts, there has been a tremendous amount of activity,” Perdue said.

Perdue estimates the law will enable 70,000 more Alaskans to buy health insurance, but 30,000 of those people would be eligible for free insurance through an expansion of the Medicaid program. The Supreme Court struck down the part of the law that forces states to participate in the expansion. But the federal government will fund the Medicaid expansion at 100 percent for the first three years and 90 percent after that. Perdue points out that is a very good deal.

“You know these individuals would be some of our most chronically ill people and they don’t have coverage. They’re using the health care system extremely expensively, in our emergency rooms and probably their care could be managed in a much more effective way,” Perdue said.

The state hasn’t said yet whether it will opt out of the Medicaid expansion in the health care law.

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie