Health reform revived: Murkowski says bills will advance via committee process

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

FAIRBANKS — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said the health care discussion in Congress is moving forward nearly a month after the failed Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“The committee process, which is something that I had been pounding the drum on for months and months, is underway,” Murkowski said at a Monday interview with the Daily News-Miner editorial board.

Murkowski, a Republican who was re-elected in November, was one of the deciding votes in blocking the repeal attempt in late July. One of several reasons she cited for her consistent ‘no’ votes was the lack of proper procedure in running the repeal through committees.

The Senate is set to go back into session Sept. 5. Hearings in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will begin that morning with a presentation from commissioners or directors of insurance from across the country, Murkowski said.

Later that week the HELP Committee will host a panel of governors. More hearings will follow, Murkowski, a member of the committee, said.

“We’re going to be looking at the very immediate issues that need to be addressed,” she said. “In other words, you have an individual market that is not on a sustainable path. We’re seeing more and more insurance providers that are leaving states altogether. To start with, the effort is going to be to look at a short-term fix for the cost-share subsidies.”

Murkowski said one of the most important changes she is pushing for is more flexibility for states under what is called the 1332 waiver, a section of the Affordable Care Act designed to provide states the ability to restructure aspects of the health coverage systems.

“Alaska is the only state that at this time has been granted a 1332,” Murkowski said. “It is one of the reasons that we’re seeing Premera come back with recommended (rate) decreases while every other state is seeing increases.”

Murkowski noted that the decreases in Premera’s insurance premium rates are not entirely due to the 1332 waiver. She said she also is concerned that health insurance costs have dropped in part because fewer Alaskans are seeking medical care.

“The reason we fear they’re accessing less care is because they may have premium support assistance but they still can’t afford the out-of-pockets,” Murkowski said. “People, who even though they may have insurance, they’re deductibles are so high that they’re deferring care.”

Murkowski said one of her focuses moving forward will be not only to look into decreasing insurance costs but also reducing health care costs.

“Where we never got to in this whole discussion was that both the ACA and then what the Republican proposal was, was all focused on coverage instead of ‘What are we doing to actually reduce the cost of care?’” she said. “Because one would think if you can reduce the cost of care, then perhaps your insurance would go down and that might actually be affordable too.”

Since the final vote on what became known as the “skinny repeal,” Murkowski said she has been involved in many conversations with both Republicans and Democrats as well as House members regarding how the issue can be moved forward in a joint effort.

“This can’t be a Republican proposal and expect that we’re going to make it,” Murkowski said. “It cannot be just the Senate acting on its own. If we’re going to be serious about any aspect of this advancing, we’ve got to be at the table, Republicans and Democrats, working with our colleagues on the House side. There are some interesting alliances that have already been built, and I’m proud to be part of many of these in the mix.”

Contact staff writer Erin Granger at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMPolitics

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