Doctors propose ballot initiatives to make aspects of Affordable Care Act state law | Local News

FAIRBANKS — A group of four Alaska doctors has proposed a pair of ballot initiatives that would shore up aspects of the Affordable Care Act in the state. 

The first initiative, an 11-page proposal titled “Quality Health Insurance for Alaskans Act of 2018,” would preserve some of the more popular aspects of the ACA.

If approved, the initiative would prohibit insurers from denying health care to patients with pre-existing conditions, continue requiring that family plans cover children ages 26 and younger and guarantee that all plans include 10 “essential health benefits” such as mental health care, emergency care and drug prescriptions, among others. 

The second initiative would protect Alaska’s current Medicaid system, which Gov. Bill Walker expanded in 2015 as allowed under the ACA. Medicaid assists low-

income Alaskans and those with disabilities. 

This expansion has been supported by a number of Alaska lawmakers, including U.S Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who defended Medicaid during the most recent attempt to repeal the ACA in the U.S. Senate. 

Part of the initiative would hold health care providers’ Medicaid payments at a steady rate no less than they were on Jan. 1 as well as prohibiting the state from changing its Medicaid qualifications to limit access even if Congress implements such changes at a later date. 

The four doctors are Alec Glass, George Rhyneer, Megan LeMasters-Soule, of Anchorage, and Alan Gross, of Petersburg. 

Glass, a neurologist, co-sponsored the initiative protecting the state’s current Medicaid system. Part of the reason Glass supported the initiative was because of how many people Medicaid helps, he said. 

“There are plenty of problems with the Affordable Care Act, but one of the most clearly positive aspects of it was the Medicaid expansion,” he said.

The expansion covered an additional 35,000 Alaskans. 

“I feel strongly that all Alaskans should have access to health care and that the system works better when there is not a large uninsured population where the hospitals have to shift costs onto the insured population,” Glass said.  

The group chose the route of a ballot measure to include the state’s voters in the process, Glass said. 

“This ballot measure will let the population decide, as opposed to going through a sometimes more complicated legislative process,” he said. “My sense is that the vast majority of Alaskans are supportive of this aspect of the ACA.” 

Some are concerned about the process, however, including the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, according to Becky Hultberg, president of the association. 

“We’ve been in conversations with the financial backers of the initiative. At this time, our association hasn’t taken a formal stance, but I do know that some of our members have concerns about it,” Hultberg said. “We fully support the services the initiative protects, we’re just not sure that a ballot initiative is the best way to approach the issue.”

The other three doctors were unavailable for comment. Rhyneer was out of the office, LeMasters-Soule was out of town for an extended work trip and Gross was unable to be reached at Petersburg Medical Center, where he is a guest physician, or at Bartlett Medical Center in Juneau, where he also works.

A representative of Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, the only company in the state selling individual health insurance plans in the government-run marketplace, said the company was just learning about the initiative and wasn’t involved in drafting it.

“They just filed these proposals and we’re still looking them over and reviewing them,” Melanie Coon, a spokeswoman for the company, said Thursday. 

If these initiative proposals are approved for signature-gathering, the doctors have until mid-January to collected at least 30,000 signatures in order for the measures to appear on the 2018 ballot. If voters approve, the aspects of “Obamacare” would become state law. 

The initiative proposals were filed earlier this month and are still under review according to Lori Wing-Heier, director of the Alaska Division of Insurance. 

Contact staff writer Erin Granger at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.

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