Healthcare hearing leaves things unsaid

Alaska state Rep. Lora Reinbold, who chairs the Administrative Regulation Review Committee, held an interesting if unbalanced hearing on the effect the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, is going to have on Alaska.

“Is Obamacare the best or worst thing to happen to the U.S.? That’s what our hearing is about; we want to learn the facts and clarify what is currently known about the program’s effects in Alaska,” she wrote in a press release announcing the hearing, two days before it was held.

Reinbold, a Republican from Eagle River, is not a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, and is a cosponsor of a joint legislative resolution to call on Congress to delay the implementation of the act.

Those testifying, all invited by the committee chair, included Deborah Erickson, the executive director of Alaska’s Health Care Commission, Jeff Davis who is president of Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, Division of Insurance Director Bret Kolb.

Dr. Ilona Farr, who is a primary care physician and who has been one of the state’s most vocal opponents of the ACA, also testified. She was the only health care provider who did so.

Alaska has the third highest cost of health care in the world and its citizens pay among the highest premiums rates for insurance in the country. At about 120,000 uninsured Alaskans, the state has among the highest rates of uninsured per capita in the country.

The committee didn’t invite patient advocates or anybody from the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, or any of their members including Providence Hospital or Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

Nobody from the public testified.

With the absence of those voices, it was difficult to get a balanced perspective on the Act and how it will affect such people and institutions, say nothing of what it would do to such people and institutions if Gov. Sean Parnell declines to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid.

It was a topic that those presenting only touched on, which was also surprising given that it is one of the few things about the Act in which the state has a voice.

In the other major area that the state could have had say—health exchanges—Parnell  ceded the state’s voice and has allowed the feds to build Alaska’s exchange, which is supposed to be up and running by September. (Read more about exchanges here.)

The major take-away from the hearing, based on those testifying, was that health care costs are going to rise under the Act.

Farr, as she has done in the past, also spent much of her time talking about the negative impact that onerous regulations were going to have on doctors.

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