Like most Americans, I am worried about the health care crisis in our country. In Alaska, 17 percent of the population is uninsured. Some of these individuals work for small businesses that cannot afford to offer insurance like larger employers do; some make a conscious decision not to purchase insurance because they are young and healthy and do not want to spend the money on it; and others have just fallen through the cracks.
I have supported several bills in Congress that address the issues of pre-existing conditions, allow purchasing insurance across state lines, grant small businesses and self-employed individuals the same tax benefits as larger companies for purchasing insurance, give incentives to health care providers to practice in rural locations, and increase Medicare payments for providers.
However, while there are some good aspects to H.R. 3962, which passed the House Nov. 7, there are more provisions that will harm Alaskans than would help them, and that is why I voted "no."
The bill expands Medicaid but passes a large chunk of that new expansion's cost to the states, taking funding away from other state programs, like education and transportation.
It makes deep cuts to the Medicare program, totaling $500 billion over 10 years. The cuts include payments to Disproportionate Share Hospitals, which almost every hospital in Alaska receives. The rates are cut by 50 percent even though the hospitals treat a higher percentage of low-income patients.
Further, Americans who do not maintain "acceptable health insurance coverage" would have to pay the bill's new individual mandate tax (generally 2 1/2 percent of income). Those who don't pay the individual mandate tax are subject to numerous civil and criminal penalties, including criminal fines of up to $250,000 and imprisonment of up to five years.
Additionally, it requires that companies purchase insurance or be penalized 8 percent of their payrolls which will cost at least 5.5 million jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Finally, it takes Alaska's neediest kids off Denali KidCare over the next few years and gives them inferior coverage under Medicaid.
Unfortunately, that's just the beginning.
What I do support is lowering the cost of care and making it more accessible. This is why I supported the GOP alternative to the health care bill, which the CBO found would lower insurance premiums by an average of 10 percent, and cosponsored H.R. 2516, the Medical Rights Act, and H.R. 3218, the Improving Health Care for All Americans Act.
H.R. 2516 would allow low-income families not enrolled in public programs to decide whether to join public programs or opt into private plans through advanceable tax credits. It also grants small businesses and self-employed individuals the same tax incentives that large corporations receive for purchasing insurance for employees; reforms malpractice lawsuits; and increases the health care workforce through programs, grants, and tax incentives.
H.R. 3218 would provide a refundable and advanceable tax credit of up to $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 per family for medical costs. The bill creates new avenues for affordable health care for the sickest Americans through high-risk pools and reinsurance mechanisms and makes health care more portable so individuals will not need to stay at a job to keep their health coverage. It does that by expanding the insurance pools Americans can choose to join. The need for health care reform is real, but the bill that was just passed was not the right one for Alaska and not the right one for the country. I thank the huge number of Alaskans who called my office to let their views on the bill be known. My promise to all of you is that I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to address needed change to the health care system, hoping that we can find bipartisan solutions that will work for Americans.
[Anchorage Daily News]