Gov. Sean Parnell was given the opportunity to notice at least one good thing that might be accomplished in the Affordable Care Act when he called a press conference Thursday. He expressed his objections to the “loss of liberty” in the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding most parts of the act. He talked about the “loss of hard-earned money.”
When he was reminded that Alaskans experience poorer health and higher costs than our Lower 48 counterparts, he passed that off as not being what he was most concerned about at the moment.
In Alaska, out of a population of about 670,000 people, 125,000 people have no health insurance. That number represents 18 percent of us. This ought to give the governor ample motivation to try to use the Affordable Care Act as a step toward a solution.
Instead, he staunchly turns the matter in another direction to denounce it along with most all other federal matters: it is seen as stepping on a state’s rights issue. A matter that must be stopped at the locked door and not allowed to enter Alaska.
Gov. Parnell early on fought the Act. He joined 26 other states in the lawsuit that traveled it to the U.S. Supreme Court. He took a leadership role in the matter, by his own proud admission.
Alaska is far behind the rest of the country on developing a health insurance exchange. How did this happen? Parnell turned down $1 million the Feds offered every state as seed money to create exchanges. He, at the time, cited a lower court ruling in Florida that found federal health reform unconstitutional as his basis to sidestep the law’s implementation in Alaska.
This would have set up “stores” where individuals and companies could go to select healthcare coverage options. This is a place, online or in physical form, that promises to “provide customers with an easy way to access quotes, compare products and enroll in the best plans for their needs.” It could simplify and reduce costs.
Not Parnell; he didn’t want it. In understanding his position, the governor is afraid of incurring costs for implementing a government health care program without government money to do so. That $1 million sure would be handy about now, wouldn’t it?
At Thursday’s press conference, the governor declined to answer questions about the deplorable state of high health care costs and the barriers to get health care that are faced by the residents of this state.
“That’s a question for another day. This federal healthcare legislation will be implemented,” he said. “I do not intend saddling the state’s residents to cover the costs if I can allow the federal government to cover the costs for our citizens.”
Why this sudden concern about incurring costs for the citizens? Already, the citizens of Alaska support state employees’ health insurance coverage, which lasts them and their families not only during their working days, but well into retirement. We are already paying for public employees’ good health insurance while 18 percent go without.
There are many details to learn in the days ahead about how health insurance for each of us might be constructed, gained and accessed. What will it cost and who will pay for it? The employer? The employee? How will a tax be used to fine us if we chose to decline coverage?
Give us a chance, governor, to find out the answers. Don’t prevent health insurance from coming to us. It most assuredly will not be a perfect solution to start with, but given time, it may actually lead to a better quality of life for many Alaskans. We see 125,000 good reasons to give this a fighting chance.
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