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Groups join to fight new health care legislation, which they say hurts poor families, seniors

By Bonney Bowman 7:40 PM March 9, 2017

The Republican Party’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act passed its first hurdle Thursday. Republicans in the House Ways and Means Committee voted to push through the American Health Care Act, which groups in Alaska are gearing up to fight.

Nonprofits, health care providers, faith groups and advocates formed a coalition called Protect Our Care Alaska. They say seniors and low-income families will be hit hard if the new legislation passes.

The coalition looked at analysis of the new law, provided by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonprofit and non-partisan group. Their numbers show the new legislation cuts tax credits for working Alaskans more than families in the Lower 48.

“Our working families, our most critical people, are actually going to have to pay more. We will see about a 78-percent drop in tax credits, so actually an increase of about $10,000,” said Trevor Storrs, executive director for Alaska Children’s Trust.

The trust works to prevent child abuse and neglect and is a member of the coalition.

“Health care, unbeknownst to many people, is one of the key factors in prevention work,” Storrs said. “When a family does not have health care and the services that they need, it creates adversity into the family, which puts kids at much greater risk of experiencing abuse and neglect.”

He says when combined with Alaska’s economic challenges and the highest unemployment rate in the nation, asking people to pay more for health care will hurt people in more places than just their pocketbook.

“When we see economic burden increase further and further, we see increase in alcohol and drug use, increase in domestic violence, increase in child abuse and neglect,” Storrs explained.

He said the new health care legislation also effectively does away with Medicaid expansion in Alaska, which gave 27,000 people access to coverage.

The AARP also spoke out against the new legislation, which includes what they’re calling an “age tax” because it allows insurance companies to charge older people higher premiums.

“This could mean up to an $8,000 premium hike on those who can least afford it and that is simply unacceptable,” said Ann Secrest, director of communications for AARP Alaska.

She says her big concern is for the 148,000 Alaskans aged 55 to 64, who are aging into the Medicare system. They’ll be the ones hit with the so-called age tax. Secrest says this new legislation also does nothing to lower the cost of medication, which has increased under the Affordable Care Act.

“Was the Affordable Care Act perfect? No. But there were many elements that we could have worked with,” said Secrest, who is grateful Medicare Part D remains intact under the proposed legislation.

Alaska’s congressional delegation saw the new legislation for the first time Monday night. Each issued a statement today regarding its potential impact on Alaska.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said, “My office is working closely with authorities in Alaska to analyze the bill and fully grasp how this may impact Alaska. While the reported numbers might end up being correct, it is still early in the process, and it takes time to conduct those sorts of in-depth analyses. I want to do things right, rather than quickly. Doing things right also means making sure we get an accurate analysis.”

Mike Anderson, a spokesman for Sen. Dan Sullivan, stated:

“The introduction of the American Health Care Act is the first step in a long process to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which has been disastrous for Alaska.

And while Senator Sullivan is still carefully reviewing the legislation – and has some concerns – he is pleased to see that this first step repeals the individual and employer mandates, works towards reducing costs, provides flexibility to states, and continues to provide coverage for those with pre-existing conditions as well as those on their parent’s insurance until age 26.

As the process moves forward, Senator Sullivan will fight for more affordable access to health care, with greater options, for our small businesses and middle class, as well as continued health care for the most vulnerable Alaskans.”

Rep. Don Young’s office issued a statement saying, “Congressman Young continues to review this legislation’s size, scope and direct impact to see whether it supports the goals of reforming our healthcare system in a manner demanded by the Alaskan people.”

KTVA 11’s Bonney Bowman can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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