As the CEO of a mission-driven healthcare organization, I find myself deeply concerned with the recent budget vetoes by our governor. I look at the diversity of human needs that I see in our community every day — and I worry about how we as Alaskans are going to continue to meet those needs as we head into the future.
I can appreciate that there are challenges for our state, and the reality is that we need to make choices about how to spend a limited pool of resources. I also understand that our governor thinks he has made the right choice for the people of Alaska with his $400 million-plus in budget cuts, on top of our legislators’ $200 million in cuts.
However, as someone who works with our most vulnerable community members on a daily basis, I’d like to offer my vantage point: Alaskans deserve better.
These cuts will have catastrophic impacts on our community, hurting our economy and paralyzing our ability to respond to growing epidemics in addiction, mental health needs and homelessness.
The Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center is one of the larger primary care practices in our state, and every day we see hundreds of patients walk through our doors who rely on the partnership of programs like Medicaid to be productive members of our community. We see everyone from the elderly, to new mothers and young children, as well as those who are disabled, our veterans and those recovering from substance abuse and addiction. In a month, we translate more than 30 different languages and provide every healthcare service from setting broken bones, to treating diabetes, fixing toothaches, giving flu shots and more.
The governor’s vetoes eliminate preventive dental services for adults on Medicaid, as well as cut an additional $50 million from the overall Medicaid budget, with no plan for how to implement the cut or how to supplement the lost federal match dollars. Without the needed preparation and resources, these line-item vetoes simply shift the impacts of patients and their health needs into a different part of the system, usually at a greater cost to the state and private insurance payers.
Research has demonstrated that an overburdened safety-net primary care system ultimately results in increased emergency room visits by those who can afford it the least. I’ll ask you to consider: who is going to be most likely to pay for those costs?
The governor has painted these cuts as “trimming the fat” on an entitled system, but I’ve seen the realities up close on a daily basis. Medicaid provides support to families, with half of all Alaskan children on Denali KidCare, and half of all of the children born in our state having a mother covered by Medicaid at the time of their birth.
Not only that, but we know that not all veterans are covered by VA health services — nearly 4,000 veterans in Alaska receive their medical coverage from Medicaid. Four in 10 adults recovering from opioid addiction receive coverage because of Medicaid, and 79% of nursing home residents in Alaska are on Medicaid.
None of us ever know when we might find ourselves in that space of need. These are real people — they are our friends and neighbors. The impact of this veto, in addition to significant reductions already made by the legislature, threatens to limit low income Alaskans’ access to healthcare benefits and services. This veto could lead to caps on services available to patients, reduced eligibility for services and additional provider rate reductions.
Our state’s Medicaid program provides a helping hand that brings people out of poverty and helps them in transition to get to what’s next. It helps people to fill the gaps in all walks of life — this is not a resource that we can just “veto away” in order to make the numbers balance.
As Alaskans, we lend a helping hand to our neighbors. We weather the storm together. We must do that now, by coming together and finding the solutions to our budget. As an Alaskan and CEO of the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, I’m stepping up to find the solutions that work for all Alaskans. Join me in contacting your legislators today, urging them to work together to restore the funding that was eliminated through the harmful cuts made through recent vetoes.
Take action by writing your legislators at AlaskansTogetherForMedicaid.org.
• Tammy Green is the Chief Executive Officer for the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center and has worked in health-related fields in Alaska for nearly 25 years. She has a master’s degree in Public Health.