Obamacare: Alaska’s ironic past, Murkowski’s ironic decision

Photo of Senator Lisa Murkowski

In 2010, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich was the vote that pushed Obamacare into the win column for Democrats.

It passed without a single Republican vote and is arguably the piece of legislation most responsible for Democrats losing control of the U.S. House, Senate, White House, as well as most governorships and legislatures around the country. Republicans had a mandate on Obamacare.

It’s also a big reason why Begich is now former Senator Begich.

So it’s no small matter of irony that Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted against Obamacare seven years ago, and who has voted to repeal it for years, was one of the three deciding senators who would keep the failing system in place. She was the last of the three to defect from the Republican plan to repeal.

When the chips were down and the vote really mattered, Murkowski said yes to Obamacare, since in her mind there was no adequate replacement in place.

No state has been more hurt by Obamacare than Alaska, where premiums have crippled the finances of many families that are forced to purchase an overpriced insurance product on the Obamacare marketplace at prices of $900-$1,200 a month — exceeding what many pay for their monthly rent.

WHAT SHE SAID

“As I’ve been saying, the Senate should take a step back and engage in a bipartisan process to address the failures of the ACA and stabilize the individual markets,” Murkowski said. “That will require members on both sides of the aisle to roll up their sleeves and take this to the open committee process where it belongs.

“The individual market in states like Alaska and in rural communities across America has continued to deteriorate since we last voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Alaskans have seen their premiums increase over 200 percent, only one insurer remains on our individual market, and the state was forced to enact a costly reinsurance program to keep our sole remaining provider from leaving.”

“At the same time, the coverage offered on the exchange has become coverage in name only for too many Alaskans with premiums close to $1,000 a month on average and many facing deductibles approaching $10,000. Repealing the ACA without a clear path forward just creates confusion and greater uncertainty.”

“As I stated earlier this year, I cannot vote to proceed to repeal the ACA without reform that allows people the choice they want, the affordability they need and the quality of care they deserve.”

ARM-AND-LEG COSTS FOR ALASKANS

Premera has yet to release the prices it will charge these Alaskans in 2018. It is the only company that has remained in the state as the Affordable Care Act collapses.

But since Gov. Bill Walker adopted the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion in Alaska, rates for Alaskans who actually pay for health insurance — mainly private sector working people with jobs and benefits — have more than doubled.

Premiums in the individual insurance market are projected to decrease in the coming year because of a federal bailout, but health care insurance buyers won’t see any savings. Instead, the money will go to the state’s reinsurance program to pay for care for the most chronically ill people in Alaska.

PARTY CHAIRMAN DISAPPOINTED

Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, was disappointed.

 “I have no specific complaint about Sen. Murkowski’s position. The details of when and how much the replacement covers is up to legislators. What is nonnegotiable is that a promise Republicans made is a promise Republicans need to keep. That’s an essential, must-happen for the Republicans to maintain their credibility with the people who elected them,” Babcock said.

“I hope that the six times everyone voted to repeal Obamacare were not just for show,” Babcock said. “Promises (were) made to people when it’s very clear and specific: Repealing Obamacare is the Republican Party’s position. If you just repeal it, then the Democrats and Republicans have to come to the table. But right now, they have no incentive.”

In 2009, Murkowski said she thought “government doesn’t need to be in the business of health care. Government doesn’t need to be in the insurance business….It is not in the Constitution.”

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