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Begich Convenes Health Care Delivery Discussions in Alaska

Groups meet with Alaskans to analyze ways to improve access, care

Two groups organized by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich to focus on ways to improve health care for Alaskans, particularly veterans living in rural areas, are meeting in Alaska this week to better understand the challenges and opportunities faced by those trying to access benefits and care.

The groups have traveled throughout Alaska including stops in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kotzebue, Nome, Galena, Golovin, Bethel, Saint Mary’s, Hooper Bay and the Kenai Peninsula. The meetings have included discussions with tribal health organizations, veterans, officials with the Veterans Administration (VA) and other organizations.

“There’s no doubt this has been an eye-opening experience for a number of these folks visiting Alaska, hearing firsthand the difficulties Alaskans face getting timely health care from various sources and also just knowing what is available to veterans in terms of benefits from the VA,” Begich said. “More than one of our group members has remarked about what they’ve learned and how they can go back and make improvements or better coordinate information and service delivery.”

The Alaska Health Care Working Group is made up of health care leaders from the military, Indian Health Service (IHS), VA, TRICARE, and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The group, created by an amendment from Sen. Begich in the federal health care bill, is tasked with addressing a broad range of issues facing Alaskans who receive federal health care services. Half of all Alaskans get health care from an entity of the federal government. The amendment specifically establishes an “Interagency Task Force to Assess and Improve Health Care in Alaska.” The task force will present a report to Congress by September 23.

A second working group was formed after a June hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee where Sen. Begich secured a commitment from the VA to meet over the summer with officials from tribal health organizations to focus on ways to improve care for rural veterans in Alaska. In Alaska, the tribal health organizations negotiate with IHS to offer health services in regions around the state.

Bill Schoenhard, Deputy Under Secretary for Health Operations and Management at the VA, said, as a result of the Alaska meetings, the VA now has a much better understanding of the need to work with tribal providers in Alaska and to improve outreach efforts aimed at educating rural veterans about the benefits available to them.

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