New Medicaid reform committee strives for savings

As lawmakers look to trim the state’s budget shortfall, their attention is focusing on one of the biggest areas of the budget: Medicaid.

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Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, announced today that a new Medicaid reform subcommittee will focus on the issue over the next month.

The subcommittee will look at separate bill proposed by Gov. Bill Walker’s administration and Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, to change how healthcare is delivered to low-income Alaskans.

Both bills encourage the use of case management.

In the state’s version, a contractor assigns a primary care provider to each patient.

The provider would help coordinate the healthcare that the patient receives, with an eye toward preventing problems that cause unnecessary hospital stays and emergency room visits.

State Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson says patients benefit from closer attention.

“What we found is they love it, because, you know, maybe for the first time in their life, somebody is contacting them and saying, ‘Hey, it looks like you’re having some health issues, and based upon what you have been seen for, you might benefit from seeing a primary care provider, who can work with a … cardiologist or some other specialist. And based upon what we know about the services that you’ve received, we can set up an appointment for you.'”

Both bills also seek to reduce pharmacy spending by pointing patients toward generic prescription drugs rather than name brands.

Sen. Kelly is also interested in exploring privatizing some state healthcare services, saying he looks forward to quick and bold action:

“We haven’t done it well enough over many, many years. So there’s no finger being pointed at the Health and Social Services Committee or this commissioner. This has been an, a cumulative problem that I think we are just so forced into dealing with it now because of the other budget considerations that face us, that, um, we’re actually going to do it this time.”

The new subcommittee will meet three times a week.

Republican Sens. Kelly and Mackinnon, along with Peter Micchiche and Cathy Giessel, will serve on the subcommittee, as well as with Democrat Donny Olson.

Sen. MacKinnon says she’s interested in looking to take pieces of both the administration’s bill and Kelly’s bill in making a recommendation to the full Senate Finance Committee by the end of February.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at

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