“A lot of it was through the Medicaid expansion, so health care has grown in Alaska as a result. But a lot of it is government-driven.”
— Donna Arduin,
Director for the Office of Management and Budget
This was the response that Donna Arduin gave me when I asked Governor Dunleavy if he was concerned his proposed budget cuts to Medicaid would stymie growth in the medical industry in Alaska and where it is booming most, the Mat-Su Valley.
Medicaid isn’t just a gift. As the cost of basic medical care and pharmaceuticals continue to skyrocket, insurance plans, deductibles and premiums follow suit. These costs will make any hard-working Alaskan susceptible to living paycheck-to-paycheck, or even worse. The decision between purchasing much needed medications and rent or mortgage could be a reality for many.
According to the American Diabetes Association 1.25 million American children and adults have type 1 diabetes. 30.3 million live with diabetes and of those 30.3 million 7.2 million are undiagnosed. The disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
The cost of this disease is climbing. While type 2 diabetes is usually treated with medications that have generic forms, those who have to use insulin to control the disease are finding the cost climbing to the point of being unaffordable.
I know this personally because my wife faces this battle every day. Our health insurance through the company I work for changed this year. We went from a PPO plan, which included co-pays before having to reach a deductible to a HSA plan with a very high deductible that has to be met before we get any kind of expense relief.
We are building our health insurance savings account through direct deposits deducted from my paycheck. Plus, we pay about the same premium as we did on the PPO. When we made a trip to the pharmacy for the first time on our new plan the cost of her insulin shots threw us for a loop. A three-month supply of her one monthly shot of particular medication was almost $3,000. That’s $12,000 per year. Could we afford that? Quite frankly, the answer is no. Can we pay it? Sure, with a lot belt-tightening.
I have no idea what someone who is not as fortunate as we are would be able to do if hit with this type of bill month after month. The cost of health care has reached epidemic proportions. And as we wag our finger at those on Medicaid and tell them they are not our responsibility, more and more average wage earners find themselves in line with those who easily qualify for assistance.
Other states are working on opportunities to stem the rising cost of health care. Colorado is currently working on legislation that would cap monthly co-pays for insulin at a $100 per month. That could save patients as much as $800 per month. We’ll see if this bill grows legs.
Do we need to balance the budget? Of course we do. But we can’t turn our backs on Alaskans who can’t afford insulin or other medications. We can’t turn a blind eye as people who are at high health risks ration their prescriptions just to make health care affordable.
The Governor talks about a smaller government attracting businesses, moving them from the sidelines to the playing field. Health care providers are in a different boat. Many are left with unpaid patients’ bills having to foot the cost. His budget will start putting them back on the sidelines.
I look at health care relief no different than infrastructure. When governments pay for road construction or repair, we don’t bat an eye. But when it becomes something personal like health care and the severe cuts that Dunleavy and Arduin are proposing without really any thought other than ‘here’s the number, let’s begin slashing,’ we bristle up.
What will the impact be from a PFD as health care costs keep escalating? A $3,000 PFD check will be a very small fraction of that expense. If the Governor’s budget is simply to start a conversation, as he has stated, then he needs to get busy talking about the hard topics. If history repeats itself this time next year, Arduin will be off to another high paying position at another government entity outside of Alaska. While she believes in small government, she has no problem making bank off of the backs of hardworking Americans. Meanwhile, the administration and legislature will continue to wrestle with this meteoric rise of costs to an industry that has provided more jobs in the Mat-Su Valley than any other the past few years. So, yes, Director Arduin, the health care industry boon has come with assistance from Government funding, but so has the construction industry and so, too, you have benefited personally.