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Issue Position: Health Care

Issue Position

Location: Unknown

At 16 percent of our GDP, the United States spends more on health care per resident than any other industrialized nation. Americans spent $2.3 trillion on health care in 2007 -- eight times more than the $253 billion spent in 1980 -- and yet chronic disease affects some 133 million Americans and accounts for 70 percent of all deaths and more than 70 percent of all health care costs. The growing costs are harming our ability to obtain health care at an affordable price -- and those costs are only expected to increase without significant health care reform.

I oppose the Democratic version of health care reform that was passed by the Senate because it will not lower health care costs and insurance premiums, making it even more difficult for Alaskans to obtain access to health care and affordable health care insurance. Given our low population density and unique geography, Alaska's health care costs have traditionally been higher than the rest of the country. The Democratic health care bill does nothing to reduce health care premiums. Instead, it cuts from Medicare, imposes further mandates on individuals purchasing health insurance and ultimately results in higher premiums as well as higher prescription and medical device prices.

In an assessment by one of Alaska's leading health care analysts, under the new law premiums in Alaska are expected to rise by 12 percent, a net increase of roughly $1,160 for some individuals and $2,950 for some families. In addition, some 50 percent of health insurance plans in the state would be subject to a 40 percent tax. Already the health care plans provided to teachers and state employees will be subject to this tax. On top of that the bill does nothing to fix the Medicare reimbursement rate for Alaska.

Along with increased preventative measures and a fix to Medicare reimbursement rates, I support health care reform that:

* Allows for purchasing health insurance across state lines and in any state where health care is more affordable;
* Guarantees insurance coverage to those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or mental disease as well as for rare or genetic conditions;
* Bans insurance companies from denying claims or canceling coverage because of a newly detected health condition;
* Ensures that those who like their health coverage can keep it;
* Guarantees that important health care decisions are made by you and your doctor, rather than federal bureaucrats;
* Prevents insurance companies from placing financial limitations or caps on how much they will pay for your treatment; and
* Provides for junk lawsuit reform that will result in lower health care costs for doctors and patients alike.

One of the simplest ways to reduce health care costs is through preventative care that stops chronic disease before it can start. Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke can be averted if patients have access to doctors who can help them understand the preventive measures that can save their lives.

In order to achieve this goal, patients must be able to access a high-quality health care provider, a task that's not always as simple as it should be, particularly in Alaska. Too many seniors are unable to access any regular, preventive health care because doctors are hesitant to accept new Medicare patients due to Medicare's low reimbursement rates. Alaska also lacks a medical school that would allow us to grow our own doctors, instead of having to entice them from Outside.

In 2008, Sen. Ted Stevens and I obtained a permanent 35 percent increase in the Medicare reimbursement rate for Alaska. As a result, health care providers are continuing to care for existing patients who age into Medicare, but many new Medicare-eligible patients are still going without primary care services. To fix this problem, I've co-sponsored legislation to replace the Medicare reimbursement formula with an index that would keep pace with doctors' actual practice costs.

With an aging population, addressing the nationwide primary care shortage has been a concern I have advocated for during my time in the Senate. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, I sponsored legislation that would increase funds for the National Health Service Corps, a program that provides loan repayment assistance to primary care doctors and nurses who offer to serve in rural and medically underserved communities. In addition, my legislation would allow doctors to gain rural and frontier experience by doing part of their residency in these areas. This could help increase the number of doctors willing to serve in our rural and medically underserved areas.

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