WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and former vice chair and current member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), participated in a robust roundtable discussion focusing on health care issues facing Alaskans and Alaska Natives. The roundtable took place on Friday, August 12th at the Gorsuch Building at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, AK.
The roundtable featured experts from across the state that provided their input and experience on the issues. The participants included:
· Lori Wing-Heier, director of the Alaska Division of Insurance;
· Valerie Davidson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services;
· Leonard Sorrin, vice president at Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield;
· Dr. Lisa Parady, executive director of the Alaska Superintendents Association;
· Dr. Deena Paramo, superintendent of the Anchorage School District;
· Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association;
· Andy Teuber, president and CEO of the Kodiak Area Native Association;
· Roald Helgesen, CEO of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and hospital administrator;
· Dr. Robert Onders, medical director for the Community Health System Improvement;
· Katherine Gottlieb, president and CEO of the SouthCentral Foundation;
· April Kyle, vice president of behavioral health for the SouthCentral Foundation;
· Jennifer Meyhoff, chair of Legislative Affairs Committee for the Alaska Association of Health Underwriters; and
· Jeff Ranf, former president and current board member for the Alaska Association of Health Underwriters.
The discussion focused on the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, rural and telehealth, the Indian Health Service, and specific issues facing Alaska Natives.
On Innovation in Alaska:
During the roundtable, Senator Murkwoski noted the innovation taking place in the Alaska Native health care system and the example that can be to the rest of the nation. “As we know in Alaska our health care costs are not going down,” said Murkowski. “Our ability to access increased care has not seen that upward trend, but we also recognize that within our native health care system we have had some examples where we are doing great things. So this opportunity to listen to what is underway is greatly appreciated. So my thanks to each of you for taking a little bit of time this afternoon.”
Later in the roundtable, Murkowski continued: “I think we do a mighty powerful job on the innovation side in many spaces because we have to. We know that we are limited by certain infrastructure. Whether it is adequate broadband to allow things to really take off or otherwise. But I think some of the models that we have seen, we are really quite proud of.”
On the Affordable Care Act’s Employer Mandate:
“Some of the tribes are now being hit now with the employer mandate,” said Barrasso. “While the tribal members may not be impacted, if the tribe is employing somebody, the tribe now has to face all the same penalties that a school district (or other employers) has to face. And the tribes are saying ‘wait a second, we are a sovereign entity, and we want our autonomy’ but this is going to impact them this year.”
On the Indian Health Service Accountability Act:
“With Senator John Thune from South Dakota and Senator Mike Rounds, who is a former governor, we had a hearing about Indian health in Rapid City, South Dakota,” said Barrasso. “To just take a look at what we need to better in terms of the Indian Health Service and in terms of accountability. Together we introduced legislation, the Indian Service Accountability Act. It is very hard to hire somebody new or to fire somebody bad within that system. So it is a matter of how can we get better accountability so that when we provide additional funds and resources, we know that it being used well. Since 2008 to now we have increased funding for the Indian Health Service across the board by 43 percent but we are seeing how that money is not necessarily going to patient care. So we are trying to deal with these issues in a way that is responsible and helps where the rubber meets the road for patients.”