Alaska Gov. Bill Walker stood with the governors of Colorado and Ohio in Washington, D.C. to announce a new “blueprint” for health care policy. The blueprint is a broad statement of the principles, and the governors want Congress to get a move on.
It might seem like the health care debate disappeared into the Washington night some time last year. After Republican bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act died, there was an effort to keep and fix, by restoring insurance subsidies and shoring up the markets. It fizzled in the Senate.
Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich says that’s a shame.
“They can’t seem to get this done,” Kasich said at a media announcement held at the National Press Club. “And it’s all politics. It’s all ‘Obama this’ and ‘Obama that.’ Well, you know what? That system needs changed.”
Bipartisanship is a key element in this blueprint. Kasich is a Republican. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is a Democrat. And Walker is an independent. So far, two other governors have also signed on: Tom Wolf, D-Pennsylvania, and Brian Sandoval, R-Nevada.
Walker says party lines shouldn’t apply to health care policy.
“The pendulum swinging back and forth between the administrations on health care – that’s what’s got to stop,” Walker said. “Because the ones that get hurt in that swing of the pendulum are those that need health care and need coverage.”
The blueprint calls for market stability, innovation and competition.
Another word that came up a lot: “Flexibility.” Walker said governors need flexibility.
To do what, exactly?
“Flexibility to make sure the health care is provided at a lower cost to Alaskans, with higher value,” Walker said.
“You sit down and you negotiate” with insurance carriers and medical providers, Walker said, adding that it’s not going to be popular.
“It’ll be the right thing to do for Alaskans and that’s what we’re going to do,” Walker said. “We’re going to sit down with the providers. We’re going to sit down and say, ‘what can you bring to the table to bring down the cost of health care in Alaska?'”
The governor is in Washington for the winter meeting of National Governors Association. With him were Alaska Insurance Director Lori Wing-Heier and Health Commissioner Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson.
Wing-Heier says one option the governor is considering is to allow other Alaska groups to join forces with the state-funded insurance plans to negotiate better prices.
“That would allow us to pool state employees with other populations,” Wing-Heier said, “and the small group market might be one that we look at.”
An idea on the rise in some states is imposing work requirements on people who receive Medicaid. Alaska Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, has sponsored a bill to do that.
Davidson says most Alaskans who are covered by Medicaid live in households with at least one working member already. And every week, Davidson says, the governor hears from people who say enrolling in Medicaid allowed them to get treatment for debilitating illness or injury so they could return work.
“And they were looking at not being able to ever work in their lives again,” Davidson said. “We see first-hand the opportunity that the availability of health care has on improving the productivity of Alaskans’ lives.”
The state’s Medicaid rolls grew last year by about 26,000, and nearly 40 percent were children. Wing-Heier and Davidson say it’s due to Alaska’s poor job market.