Murkowski rejects ‘quick’ fix for health care

Alaska’s senior U.S. Senator is calling for a “go-slow” approach to national health care reform.

Murkowski visited Juneau on Thursday as part of Congress’ weeklong Memorial Day recess and spoke to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and to the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Culturally Responsive Education Conference.

“That is the one issue that as I travel around the state, I don’t care what town I’m in or whether I’m speaking at a senior center or to a chamber or to fishermen, this is an issue that comes up repeatedly,” Murkowski said of health care to her Chamber audience.

Speaking to reporters after her lunchtime Chamber speech, she said that she’d rather see Congress “get it right” when it comes to health care reform.

“There are some who are very interested in moving it as quickly as possible to ‘get it behind us.’ I don’t think that’s the responsible path. I want to get right rather than get it behind us, and that’s going to take time,” she said.

The version of health care reform approved by the U.S. House of Representatives (Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, voted for it) would cost Alaskans thousands of dollars in increased costs and lower subsidies, according to independent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and others.

Murkowski, speaking to the Chamber, said Alaska is an outlier. It has the highest health costs and highest insurance costs in the nation, and any reform bill must acknowledge that fact.

Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, Murkowski traveled to Norway, Greenland and the North Slope on a tour of Arctic military and energy installations with a group of U.S. Senators and the Secretary of the Interior.

One of the senators traveling with Murkowski was Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas. Cornyn is one of the Senate’s Republican leaders, and during their flight over the 49th state, Murkowski said she tried to make it clear to Cornyn that Alaska is a different place, and what works in the Lower 48 will not work in Alaska.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Murkowski told teachers at the SHI conference.

After her conference speech, Murkowski was approached by a teacher who said she would not be alive today without health care provided by the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama.

Speaking to reporters, Murkowski said she heard from another woman undergoing treatment for cancer.

“She needs to just focus on getting her body whole, but she’s got another series (of treatments) to come up, and she was saying, I can’t focus on myself … because I’m so worried that something’s going to happen to my health care and I will be labeled with a pre-existing condition and I’m never going to be able to get health care again,” Murkowski said. “It’s these types of stories that remind me that no, the importance of a timeline is not nearly as important as getting this right.”

Murkowski said she’s facing political pressure to go with the flow and succumb to a quick Republican push on health care.

“There’s a lot of pressure right now. There’s pressure (from) the White House, saying we want to get this behind us. There’s certainly pressure from my leadership, and I don’t know where the House is — I think the House is just happy to leave it in our lap right now,” she said.

Murkowski said that before the Senate acts, it needs to have a plan that fixes the problems Alaskans have.

“We have got to address it in a way that provides that assurance and that help that people expect from us,” Murkowski said.


Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.


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