Delegation Introduces Bill Returning Healthcare Options to Alaskans

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, and Congressman Don Young introduced the Ensuring Health Care Opportunities Act of 2016 which will help Alaskans struggling with the high cost of health insurance, and strive to attract more insurance companies to Alaska.

President Obama, and many of those who voted for the Affordable Care Act, promised that those who liked their healthcare coverage could keep it under Obamacare, and that the act would lower costs and increase competition. The President said that every plan would offer an “affordable, basic package.” Six years later, hundreds of thousands of Americans, particularly those in rural states like Alaska, have seen premiums and deductibles skyrocket, and choices decrease with an exodus of insurance companies. A recent Gallup poll reveals that 29% of Americans say they have been directly hurt by Obamacare, and 51% of Americans disapprove of the law.

When the Affordable Care Act became law, Alaskans had their choice of five insurers offering individual coverage on the federal exchange. Today, Alaska is one of as many as eight states down to one insurance company offering such policies. Further, one-in-four counties across the county are down to one insurance company offering individual plans.

Until full repeal is realized, Alaskans are desperate for solutions. The Ensuring Health Care Opportunities Act would allow Alaskans, along with residents of states and localities with only one insurance company offering plans on the exchange, the option to buy health insurance that doesn’t include certain Obamacare mandates that might not apply to them, like mental health services, addiction treatment and maternity care – services which every health care policy today is required to cover.

“The cost of health care coverage is crippling Alaska’s middle class,” Senator Sullivan said. “The stories I hear and the letters I receive from my constituents being forced to buy insurance they can’t afford, and insurance they can’t use because of high deductibles, are heartbreaking. The President and the law’s supporters are M.I.A. as announcement after announcement comes out detailing the abject failure of Obamacare, taking many Americans’ livelihoods with it. Something has to be done. Until we can repeal Obamacare, this bill will provide Alaskans what they have been asking for – a real choice in policies.”

“We have seen time and time again that the Affordable Care Act does not work for a low-population, high-risk state such as Alaska. This essential bill would once again give Alaskans a choice in their healthcare coverage, a choice that the Affordable Care Act had taken away,” said Senator Murkowski. “I am proud to join with Senator Sullivan and Congressman Young to bring relief and flexibility to Alaskans suffering from the failing ACA’s one-size-fits-all policies.”

“Long before the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, many predicted that this one-size-fits-all healthcare law simply wouldn’t work – especially in places like Alaska,” said Congressman Don Young. “With skyrocketing premiums and the loss of all but one healthcare provider, it’s clear that those predictions have come true. Alaskans need and demand relief from this overbearing government mandate, especially as our system faces near collapse. This bill takes serious efforts to confront the many healthcare challenges facing Alaskans by removing some of the most unreasonable requirements of this law, while also giving Alaskans the choice and flexibility they need and deserve.”

Background on the Ensuring Health Care Opportunities Act:

  • This bill would allow states that have at least one county (or equivalent municipality) with only one insurer on the health exchange market to be exempted from certain coverage mandates in the Affordable Care Act.
  • States are not required to file this exemption, and the authority is left up to the state insurance commissioner or equivalent official. 
  • Individuals will not be required to purchase insurance excluding these coverage mandates.
  • States will have 90 days to file this exemption after the law is enacted, or 90 days once a state discovers it will have at least one county with only one insurer.
  • The waiver is good for 5 years and can be recertified. 
  • No part of this law prevents health insurers from offering a health insurance plan with these mandates. The law simply allows for additional plans to be filed that offer more choice for the consumer as a one-size-fits-all approach has clearly not worked. 
  • The point of this bill is to give consumers more choice in their health insurance options while encouraging insurers to reenter states to offer more plans to meet consumer needs and demands.
  • This law will not impact the preexisting condition clause of the Affordable Care Act or the ability for parents to keep children on their insurance plans until the age of 26.  

Facts about the Affordable Care Act:

  • A new study by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation suggests there could be just one option for coverage in 31% of counties in 2017, and there might be only two in another 31%. That would give exchange customers in large swaths of the U.S. far less choice than they had this year, when 7% of counties had one insurer and 29% had two.
  • 974 counties have only one insurer and make up part of 23 states.
  • According to the American Action Forum, premium increases associated with coverage of these mandates have ranged from 0.13 percent in Rhode Island to 33 percent in Maine, with most states expecting single-digit increases.

Media reports on the ACA’s impact on Alaskans:

“Prior to implementation of the ACA, a consumer could choose which services and coverage they were willing to pay for and at what price point. Now, the federal government chooses for them, and they are required to pay up, or pay a penalty.” – Susan Bell, former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, writing in the Juneau Empire, September 10, 2014.

“‘You never want to be without competition  that's not good for consumers,’ [Alaska Division of Insurance Director Lori] Wing-Heier said. ‘But in our case in particular it's troubling because [companies are] leaving because they're losing money. That makes it harder to attract new insurers to the market,’ Wing-Heier said.” – Alaska Dispatch News, July 7, 2016.

“A recent cost-of-living index highlighted what many Alaskans already know: Living up north is pricey, from groceries to housing to utilities. But only in one category -- health care -- did four of the state's cities top the nation. Juneau placed first, then Fairbanks and Kodiak, with Anchorage named fourth for most costly health care, followed by Everett, Wash., and Boston, according to a report released last week by the Council for Community and Economic Research. The organization of researches measured some 300 cities based on the average 2013 prices for visits with optometrists, dentists and physicians.” – Alaska Dispatch News, March 27, 2016.

“In health insurance prices, as in the weather, Alaska and the Sun Belt are extremes. This year Alaska is the most expensive health insurance market for people who do not get coverage through their employers, while Phoenix, Albuquerque, N.M., and Tucson, Ariz., are among the very cheapest.” – NPR, January 15, 2015.

“Alaska Division of Insurance Director Lori Wing-Heier responded that the market is at a point where it may become so costly that Alaskans may flee the marketplace, creating an even smaller pool, and larger rate increase. The individual market could ‘go into a death spiral,’ she told legislators.” – Alaska Dispatch News, May 17, 2016.

“Alaskans on the individual market have already seen huge increases in their health insurance rates over the past two years. Premera's rate increases averaged 37.2 percent in 2015 and 38.7 percent in 2016, while Moda's increases were 27.4 percent and 39 percent.” – Alaska Dispatch News, January 28, 2016.

“It might not be a surprise to learn that Alaskans are much more likely to be uninsured than most other Americans. They are also more likely to live in remote areas and more likely to be people of color than those in the continental United States. They’re precisely the sort of population that the Affordable Care Act was designed to serve by expanding coverage, expanding access to health care, and making health care cheaper. But instead of proving the usefulness of health reform, the new health infrastructure in the state is quietly failing.” “Health Care Falters on the Last Frontier.” – Atlantic Monthly, July 1, 2016.

Editorials from newspapers across the country:

RGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW: “Just around the time that Barack Obama packs his bags and leaves the White House, the house of cards that is ObamaCare could come tumbling down.” (Editorial, “Obamacare's Future: Condition Critical,” Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 8/15/16)

NEW HAMPSHIRE UNION LEADER: “The entire Obamacare scheme was set up on faulty premises. You can’t force people to buy health insurance they don’t want, subsidize mediocre insurance plans people can’t afford, and still claim to hold down rising medical expenses.” (Editorial, “Another ACA Failure Bad Idea Keeps Getting Worse,” Union-Leader, 9/6/16)

DETROIT NEWS: “The Affordable Care Act — commonly called Obamacare — isn’t working as it was supposed to. Insurance premiums are set to skyrocket in 2017, following increases the past several years. … President Barack Obama’s signature health care law was built on a dream. But market realities still exist, and taxpayers and patients throughout the country will continue to pay the price for the president and Congress ignoring those realities.” (Editorial, “Obamacare Begs For Congressional Review,” The Detroit News, 8/18/16)

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