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Legislators Offer Medicare Solution

Lawmakers Unveil Plan to Help Alaska Seniors

March 29, 2010

(JUNEAU) – At a press conference today, Representative Les Gara, Senator Hollis French, and Rep. Lindsey Holmes (all D-Anchorage) presented a plan to help Alaska solve its shortage of Medicare providers.  Presently, in many locations around the state, doctors refuse to accept Medicare patients because the Alaska reimbursement rate is too low.  Existing law generally prohibits the state from providing additional funds to doctors who accept Medicare patients.  


U.S. Senator Mark Begich, based upon work with Reps. Gara and Holmes, successfully added an amendment to the recently enacted federal health care reform bill allowing states to provide grants to medical providers who treat any underserved population the state identifies, which may include seniors.


“We have a great opportunity to finally make sure seniors can get the medical care they need, and should take advantage of it,” Rep. Gara said.  “Senator Begich deserves a lot of credit for working to craft this solution, and for passing the additional 10% increase in Medicare primary care re-imbursement.”


Reps. Gara and Holmes and Sen. French have written a letter to Governor Sean Parnell and the entire Alaska State Legislature, urging them to support and pass legislation to implement and take advantage of this federal provision.  Realizing time is short, the Anchorage lawmakers hope to act now to help solve the shortage of physicians and other medical providers available to seniors in many areas in Alaska. 

Pat Luby, Advocacy Director of the Alaska Chapter of American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) said, “AARP believes that the Alaska Legislature will now have an opportunity to help meet the Medicare access crisis that so many older Alaskans find themselves in upon their 65th birthdays.  The collaboration between the Congressional delegation and our legislators is a model of how to attack a common problem faced by their constituents.”

Joan Fisher, Executive Director of the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center agreed.  “Alaska's senior population will increase by a third in the next five years and services for seniors are not prepared to handle this boom,” Fisher said.  “This bill will create an avenue for providers of health services to be adequately reimbursed for seeing Medicare beneficiaries and increase access to primary care.” 


Reps. Gara and Holmes have crafted language to replace that in HB 178, pending health care legislation, so the revised bill will follow the new federal opportunity.   Sen. French has added similar language to his SB 61.


“This fix will allow more primary care physicians to accept Medicare patients,” Sen. French said.  “Alaska seniors have been facing physician shortages for years, and thanks to the good work of Sen. Begich, more of them will be able to see a doctor when they need.” 


“Our proposed legislation establishes a grant program for medical providers who treat senior citizens in areas where seniors are currently being underserved,” Rep. Holmes said.  “Grants would go first to providers who would most efficiently expand their treatment of Alaska’s seniors using the grant funds.”


For more information, contact Rep. Gara or aide David Theriault at (907)465-2647, Sen. French or aide Kate Herring at (907) 465-3892, or Rep. Holmes or aide James Waldo at (907) 465-4919.

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