Murkowski Says Democrats' Health Care Bill Doesn't Solve Medicare Access Problem in Alaska

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said today that she was contacted by an Anchorage family practice doctor earlier this week who is opting out of treating Medicare patients, citing the Democrats’ health care bill under consideration in the Senate.

Murkowski, vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference Committee, appeared at a news conference with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and several other senators to talk about the Democrats’ $2.5 trillion health care bill.

Citing a March 2009 study by the Institute for Social Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Murkowski said only 13 primary care doctors in Anchorage were still taking new Medicare patients. One of the main reasons why so few doctors are seeing new Medicare patients is because of the low Medicare reimbursement rates in Alaska for health care providers, as compared to rates by private insurers.

“We just got confirmation on Monday that one of those 13 was dropping out,” Murkowski said. “She said that in view of what happens with the reimbursements, in view of what you are discussing back here in Washington, I can’t afford within my family practice to take on new Medicare-eligible individuals, so she’s dropping out.

“That puts us down to 12. This is a crisis and so when we look at the proposed legislation that does nothing to expand doctors’ access, that basically says you now have an insurance card that gives you access but there are no providers that are willing to take you on, then what have we done?”

In a Senate floor speech after the news conference, Murkowski also talked about a new analysis of the Democrats’ health care bill by Rick Foster, chief actuary for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who said that health care spending would increase under the legislation.

Murkowski read from a September 17, 2009, letter from six Democrats to Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The six are U.S. Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. At the time the letter was written, the Finance Committee was debating the health care bill.

The six Democrats said that cutting health care costs was the group’s “number one priority” and that if health reform legislation passed without addressing health care spending, “we will have failed.”

“Well, I couldn’t agree more with my Democratic colleagues that signed that letter,” Murkowski said. “We will have failed if we have not addressed the issue of cost, the issue of spending.”

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