Murkowski: Medicare Fix, Secure Rural Schools Extension a “Win-Win” for Alaska

Bill Will Deliver to Needs of Older Alaskans and Rural Communities

Senator Lisa Murkowski today voted for H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act that would reform how doctors are paid under Medicare and provide a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program.  The bill passed the U.S. Senate 92-8.  The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2 by an overwhelming vote of 392 to 37, so it now heads to the President’s desk.

The legislation avoids a potential 21 percent reimbursement rate reduction to Medicare providers, by replacing the problematic Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) payment formula with a sustainable one.  The bill also ensures against future temporary “doc fix” votes that continued reasonable payments to doctors with no certainty from year to year.

“This bill represents a win-win for two different groups: Alaskan seniors and those living near national forests.  Alaska’s seniors have a serious problem when it comes to getting access to affordable care, and even finding a doctor who will see them under the Medicare program,” said Murkowski.  “This bill brings more certainty to the system and provides a better quality of life for older Alaskans by eliminating the threat of drastic cuts in payments to doctors already providing care.”

The bill also includes a two year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program.  Under the program, the U.S. Forest Service provides roughly $12 million a year in Secure Rural Schools' payments to Alaska communities in the Tongass National Forest and Chugach National Forest. The bulk of the payments funds public schools and roads.

Senator Murkowski welcomed the relief it would bring to worried municipal and school officials in southeast and southcentral Alaska, but warned the funding was only a temporary fix to a problem that has grown steadily worse over the years with the decline in timber receipts.

“The Secure Rural School program has for years masked the problem of declining timber receipts by paying communities directly from the federal treasury, but now those funds are constantly at risk,” Murkowski said. “Until the Forest Service returns to actively managing our forests, I fear that our communities will continue to face economic uncertainty."