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Murkowski Introducing “Alaska Wellness Package”

Senator to File “Win-Win” Legislation for Alaskan, National Health Concerns

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the same day she spoke to the National Rural Health Association Conference, Senator Lisa Murkowski announced she will introduce four separate pieces of health care legislation tomorrow designed to improve Alaskans’ and Americans’ quality of life.  Two of the bills would address national issues with an acutely Alaska component: improved access to quality care for Medicare recipients and better diagnosis and care for those with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

The second pair of bills would be more Alaska-specific: a three year extension for the cost-saving Medicare project being held at the four Frontier Extended Stay Clinics in rural Alaska, as well as a land transfer to allow the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to expand to better serve the Alaska Native community’s medical needs.

“The Alaska Wellness Package is truly representative of the unique challenges that Alaska faces in pursing access to treatment and care for medical issues,” said Murkowski.  “Whether it is improving care in remote locations, addressing Alaska Native needs, ensuring greater access to our rising elderly population or making a difference to young and future Alaskans who face fetal alcohol spectrum challenges – these bills aim to deliver access, knowledge, technology and services to them in order to build a healthier, more vibrant state.”

“[The Medicare Patient Empowerment Act] is a win-win and a great idea,” says Dr. Mary Ann Foland of Primary Care Associates in Anchorage.  “This bill allows the patient to contract one-on-one with their physician and helps reimburse them for some of their out-of-pocket expenses.”

The four bills she plans to introduce when the U.S. Senate convenes tomorrow are:

  1. The Medicare Patient Empowerment Act of 2013 – UAA has found a “major problem” in Anchorage and a “noticeable problem in the Mat-Su and Fairbanks” of primary care doctors turning away Medicare patients. This bill frees doctors and patients from red tape by allowing patients to negotiate directly with doctors for reimbursement agreements. There are three licensed physicians serving alongside Senator Murkowski in the U.S. Senate, and all three are co-sponsoring the bill.
  1. Advancing FASD Research, Prevention and Services Act – Alaska has the highest rate of children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in the nation.  Senator Murkowski’s bill attempts to curb that statistic while assisting those with it. Her bill consists of 12 different directives, among them: direct the National Institute of Health to develop a research agenda for the most promising FASD research and diagnosis; develop partnerships of health professionals, school systems, Alaska Native or American Indian tribes and parent groups to integrate services – and support FASD adolescents as they become adults with transition assistance and education.

  1. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) Land Transfer Act – The Alaska Native Medical Center is presently over its capacity for treating and caring for its patients, with a parcel of land nearby that the Indian Health Service (I.H.S.) presently holds the full title to.  Senator Murkowski’s bill would transfer that deed to the ANTHC in order for them to construct a new facility that could accommodate the overflow.
  1. Extension of the Frontier Extended Stay Clinic (FESC) Demonstration – There are four clinics in Alaska (Prince of Wales, Haines, Glenallen and Unalaska) that are working through a pilot program within the Medicare system to provide care to patients located far from doctors accepting Medicare patients.  The National Rural Health Association and the Rural Policy Research Institute Center for Rural Health found the program to be a “valuable service to remote or isolated communities” and that the program is saving Medicare money.  Senator Murkowski’s bill extends this program – currently set to expire at the end of March – for an additional three years.

“The FESC is one of the most effective, innovative, and cost-effective services in frontier America,” says Patricia Wilkinson of the Southeast Alaska Regional Healthcare System (SEARHC). “By providing emergency and limited observation services, the FESC is a streamlined yet comprehensive health care system. Patients in the four current FESC communities love it. We believe it is a model that many frontier communities will embrace, and appreciate Senator Murkowski’s efforts.”

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