Health secretary lauds Alaska Native communities for response to pandemic

A man in a suit stands at a podium that says on it "alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium," as does the backdrop. To the viewers right is Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young. All three are wearing masks.
Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar was in Anchorage Wednesday. It was a refueling stop, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski says he made good use of it by meeting with leaders of the Native health care system. Alaska Congressman Don Young, right, also welcomed the secretary on his short visit (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Despite the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Alaska, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar sees a lot of success in the state.

“The creativity of Alaska Native communities has helped you adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Azar said in Anchorage after meeting with leaders of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. “And the Trump administration has worked to support Alaska Native communities during this crisis. We’ve sent 31 rapid point-of-care test machines to Alaska and delivered $500 million in funding to the Indian health care system.”

He cited Alaska’s success with community health aides and dental health aides in rural villages and said the model will be expanded to tribal health care across the country.

Anchorage was a refueling stop for Azar as he returned from a trip to Taiwan. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says even short visits like this are valuable opportunities to show a cabinet secretary what Alaska is doing right and what it needs.

Murkowski said one important item they discuss was the need to continue allowing Medicare payments for telehealth visits, even after the pandemic ends.

“And so to be able to do a quick check-in here while they’re filling up the plane – i’s good, good use of everyone’s time,” Murkowski said.

RELATED: The coronavirus pandemic is shifting Alaska’s telehealth expansion into overdrive

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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