Dr. Al Gross, a born-and-raised Juneauite, was back in town Saturday for a meet-and-greet with voters at Marine Park downtown. Several dozen residents gathered around the park’s pavilion to listen to Gross make his case for their vote.
“I know there are people here today who changed me as a kid,” he said to the crowd, briefly reminiscing about his youth in Juneau. Gross spoke to the crowd for about 20 minutes before breaking off to speak to individual voters. He spoke to the Empire after the event, saying he wants to be in a leadership role in Alaska.
Gross is running as an independent but has secured Alaska’s Democratic Party nominations through that party’s open primary system. He’s said he’ll caucus with Democrats and has earned endorsements from prominent national Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York.
But Gross said he’s an Alaskan first, and would caucus with the Democrats because the Republican party had failed in so many critical areas.
“I will caucus with the Democrats because the Republicans absolutely failed on health care,” he told the Empire, “and I believe the Democrats are motivated to do some good, to improve upon the Affordable Care Act and to put forward a public option.”
Providing a public option for health insurance is something Gross said will help lower the costs of living in the state. There are many ways a public option might work, but the most common example is Medicare, the government health insurance program for people over 65.
“What I would like to do when I get to the Senate is to help pass a public option allowing people to buy Medicare directly from the government at no one else’s expense,” Gross said. “I’m not trying to provide free health insurance. I don’t believe health insurance is free or should be free. Someone is always going to be paying for it, but it can be offered at a less expensive cost if people are allowed to buy it directly from the government.”
Having those public options would drive down prices, he said, as private health insurance companies would have to compete with plans offered by the government.
But Gross doesn’t see this costing the government more money.
“This isn’t going to cost anyone else more money. People will be able to buy Medicare directly from the government at no one else’s expenses. It shouldn’t end up costing anyone else money for another person to be able to buy Medicare. I don’t envision this costing the federal government money either,” he said.
Medicare is funded from a variety of sources including payroll taxes and interest on trust fund investments. According to health care analysis group the Kaiser Family Foundation, an aging population and increases in per capita health care costs were driving up the cost of Medicare, but there are options available to maintain the program into the future.
“I envision it providing medicare on the exchange as an option for people to buy it, Medicare doesn’t have to be subsidized, not as I see it, and actually Medicare isn’t subsidized. People pay into the Medicare program through their taxes their whole life and then when they become 65 they’re eligible to receive care. I would like to see people able to buy it on a yearly basis as an insurance product offered on the exchange.”
Improving health care and the ACA were goals Gross said he wants to work with Democrats on, but he stressed his independence.
Democrats, he said, want to “improve upon the Affordable Care Act and to put forward a public option and I would like to be in a leadership role in that position, so it makes sense for me to caucus with the Democrats. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be beholden to them, I’m beholden to the state of Alaska and that’s why I’m running.”