Walker worried by one-size-fits-all approach to federal health care bill

It's the opioid news conferenceWalker speaks at a news conference earlier in the 2017 legislative session. (Photo by Office of the Governor)

Gov. Bill Walker appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered today to air his worries about the ongoing Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Walker has remained relatively quiet about the Senate’s process after ripping into the version passed by the House in May.

That’s probably because, like U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and most Americans, he has yet to see the bill.

“We’re concerned about many things up here. One is that we haven’t seen the bill and it’s hard to prepare and respond back to something we have not seen yet,” he said in the opening statement of the interview. “I’m an independent. … There’s no partisan side to health care, it’s only about taking care of Alaskans. That’s what my job is.”

Last week, Murkowski blasted the secretive process being used to draft up the new legislation. Reporting by The Hill suggests the Senate version of the bill plans to cut Medicaid deeper than the House version by reworking how growth in rates is handled.

Walker said the process in Congress seems to be “racing for a deadline” with little regard to how it will affect states like Alaska. Walker went on to explain that Alaska has the highest health care costs in the country and there are elements of the Republican proposals that could serve to make it far worse.

The reworking of independent insurance marketplace subsidies under the House bill would hit Alaska particularly hard. Depending on income and age, the premiums could rise by as much as 500 percent. There’s also the transition of Medicaid to a block program with fixed per person funding.

Walker said that would shift the costs to Alaskans.

“Our biggest concern is there will be changes that will disproportionately shift the costs onto the states–whether it’s a block grant or something of that nature–it would be very harmful to us because not all states are the same as far as the cost of health care,” he said. “No one size fits all, and if we attempt it that way, then Alaska will be sorely damaged in the process.”

Walker also said a repeal of Medicaid expansion, something that’s included in the House bill and rumored to be a part of the Senate bill, could cause some people to be kicked off. This is something he’s already acknowledged as a possibility since Congress has set to work on repealing Obamacare.

“That’s a potential, but we hope not,” he said.

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