Friday, Governor Parnell announced he won’t expand Medicaid in Alaska.
Medicaid expansion is a key provision of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It would offer health coverage to an estimated 40,000 low income Alaskans.
Parnell says he doesn’t want to attach Alaskans health care or finances to a “failing Obamacare system.”
A small group of women stood outside the Governor’s office building in downtown Anchorage singing and praying Parnell would decide to expand Medicaid.
Their prayers were not answered.
“I believe a costly Medicaid expansion, especially on top of the broken Obamacare system is a hot mess,” Parnell said.
With the announcement, Parnell released an analysis of Medicaid expansion in Alaska prepared by The Lewin Group, a health care consulting agency.
It was completed in April. APRN filed a freedom of information request for the report in June, but the state decided to keep it secret until now. It shows Medicaid expansion would bring $3 billion into Alaska through 2020 and cost the state just $240 million. That’s because the government would pay for 100 percent of the program in the first three years and then gradually reduce the matching rate to 90 percent. Parnell says that math was appealing.
“All of those federal dollars are really enticing. They are, but they’re not free. And in fact they’re paid for by debt and printing more money,” Parnell said. “They’re paid for by our kids and grand kids. And they also come at a price of dependence on the federal government to a greater extent than we are today.”
Medicaid is already one of the largest spending items in the state budget. And Parnell cited that as another reason to refuse federal money to expand the program.
Parnell is establishing an advisory group to reform Medicaid to help control costs of the program.
Since the health care law was designed to included Medicaid expansion, Parnell’s decision will leave 20,000 low income Alaskans with no reasonable option for getting health insurance. He says he wants to find a way to get those Alaskans “better access” to healthcare.
“I have committed to Alaskans and to these providers that we would work to address these gaps in access,” Parnell said.
Several organizations have come out in support of Medicaid expansion including the Anchorage and Alaska Chambers of Commerce, the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association and AARP Alaska.
Ken Ostercamp is state director for AARP. He is incredulous that the Governor could ignore such a wide range of Alaskans.
“I don’t know who he’s listening to,” Ostercamp said. “I don’t know what organizations have come out opposing Medicaid expansion.”
“It’s really an unprecedented spectrum of support and yet the Governor chose to make the decision and make it in secret, not to do what everybody seems to want.”
Governor Parnell hasn’t completely closed the door on Medicaid expansion. He says he is willing to consider a model that is tailored to the “specific needs of Alaskans.”
Susan Johnson is the regional director with the federal Department of Health and Human Services. She says Parnell has not actively pursued an alternative.
“I know the secretary has talked to him with a welcome sign open for bring to us your ideas and let us begin a conversation as Arkansas did, as Idaho has done, as other states have done, but there was no engagement from the Governor with us,” Johnson said.
Parnell indicated he would want to limit the expansion to only 100 percent of the federal poverty level, instead of 133 percent.
The federal government has said states that do that won’t be eligible for the same generous matching rates.
Still, Johnson is hopeful Parnell will reconsider and says he can change his mind anytime and opt Alaska in to the program.[View the story "A Twitter recap of AK Gov. Parnell's Medicaid announcement" on Storify]
The worst appears to be over for coastal villages in Western Alaska.
State Emergency incident Commander Mark Roberts says a return to a more normal weather pattern with clear, cold conditions is forecast.
“The rough weather that started November 5th with the first storm in a series of five storms that came through even yesterday which was in fact part of that storm, that last storm resulted in the power outages there from ice in Fairbanks area, that series of storms has completed and at least for the next five to seven days, it’s looking like clear sailing,” Roberts said.
Roberts says Kotlik, Stebbins, Scammon Bay, Tununak and Shishmaref have all declared local disasters. He says 18 communities have reported impacts. Roberts says there have been no reports of injuries or anyone missing. He attributes that to good planning by communities before the storms started.
Kotlik and Unalakleet are still working to get their water systems restored. Roberts says Kotlik has a week’s worth of drinking water in their storage tank. And Unalakleet has a temporary water collection system above ground.
Thousands of residents from Fairbanks to Fox and Nenana remain without electricity Friday following damage wrought by a mix freezing rain, snow and high winds.
Massive weather events have shaken up coastal communities in Alaska and Philippines this month.
Now, two state legislators are asking their constituents to support to relief efforts on both fronts.
When super-typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines, it walloped the rural western province of Aklan.
Phones and internet still appear to be down. The information that is making its way out of Aklan, isn’t promising. A government official told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that 11 people have died in the province of Aklan, and and more than 9,000 homes were leveled.
Alaska state representative Cathy Muñoz remembers what the province was like a year ago, when she and representative Bob Herron went there for a trade mission.
It was Alaska’s first-ever official visit to the Philippines. Muñoz says there was a huge welcome lined up when they reached Aklan’s capital city.
“Just about the entire community lined up to greet us,” Muñoz said. “Thousands of people lined the street as we were getting out of the car to attend a reception in our honor.”
“They had bands and hundreds of marchers greeting us. It was just an overwhelming experience.”
When Muñoz and Herron were in the Philippines, they talked to dozens of legislators and educators – about fisheries exports and new university exchange programs. They even laid the groundwork for a sister city partnership, between Juneau and the provincial capital of Kalibo.
But since the typhoon, Muñoz and Herron haven’t heard from any of their contacts in Aklan.
While Alaskans wait for word from typhoon-struck areas, Muñoz says there are ways to offer aid now.
“The Filipino Community [Inc.] here in Juneau is having an event very soon,” Muñoz said. “And I donated to that event so that we can raise monies that will be sent home.”
Long before the trade mission, Muñoz says Alaskans and Filipinos had developed a bond.
“The Filipino people have made contributions to the development of the territory and the state for years and years,” Muñoz said. “I think it’s really important that we come together as a community to support the Philippines and the people that have direct connections to the land and the devastation.”
In Herron’s district, Unalaska’s Fil-Am Association is holding a dinner on Saturday to raise money for aid organizations, too.
Herron says his constituents should attend that event if they can. But he also urges them to think about relief efforts more broadly – and consider what’s going on here in Alaska.
A string of fall storms has been wreaking havoc on the western part of the state. The storms damaged homes and chewed up water and sewer systems. The village of Kotlik is asking the state to declare a disaster there. Others are expected to follow suit.
Rebuilding in Kotlik and other remote villages is going to be a huge challenge. To help, Herron says he gave to the Red Cross.
“In terms of what happened in Kotlik and in terms of what happened in the Philippines, it’s a very small donation,” Herron said. “But I want the money to go to coastal communities that are impacted by tremendous weather events.”
There’s another common thread that connects Alaska and the Philippines, though. It goes beyond shared culture or economic interests and it might be to blame for such creating such powerful storms in the first place.
Herron says it’s climate change.
“All of us – that’s people who live on this planet – we have to recognize what is happening,” Herron said. “And we’re going to have to realize that there could be many benefits to what is happening. And we’ve got to try to minimize the impacts. And that’s a tall order.”
It’s also a long-term goal. Right now, survivors on Alaska’s coast, and in the Philippines, are facing immediate challenges. They need the basics, Herron says. Then, they can try to start over.
Tribal leaders from Alaska and the rest of the country had a chance this week talk with the highest powers in the federal government.
Nearly all of President Obama’s cabinet secretaries participated in the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, as did Obama himself.
This was the fifth such conference in as many years. The gathering is an Obama initiative to reach out to tribes and show his administration is listening. It includes break-out sessions with department and agency heads, and a presidential address. Ted Mala, who in past years represented Buckland, says the value is enormous.
“We’ve never had a president or an administration pay this much attention to us,” Mala said. “It’s given us access to the secretaries, and for the first time ever we have a voice, in my opinion.”
We had a degree of it with other administrations but this one has blown the doors open, and it’s incredible.
Will Micklin came representing the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes. He says the highlight for him was hearing the president mention contract support costs. It was a reference to the decades-long failure of the government to fully pay tribes for services they provide, primarily health care.
“We require that they fulfill obligations and their commitiments in order that we can most effectively govern ourselves, and it starts with paying your contractual obligations,” Micklin said.
Obama, though, only said he’d heard their call for full reimbursement and pledged to work with Congress to find a solution. Micklin says when tribal leaders show their faces every year it helps hold the president accountable for his promises. Micklin believes the conference can produce results.
“It’s beginning to. We know the president means what he says,” Micklin said. “We sometimes have difficulty with his key officials, and so we’re trying to close the gap between what the president promises and what his key officials deliver.”
Mary Ann Mills of the Kenaitze Tribe said the best part for her was a smaller session she attended with top Interior Department personnel.
“I was a little bit disappointed with the president Obama because he didn’t mention Alaska one time in his speech and we have so many issues there,” Mills said. “I thought he’d say something about our health care and about the violence against women and the high suicide rate, and I thought he would lend a little more support than he did.”
Just before the conference, Obama invited a dozen Native American leaders to the White House for a special meeting.
The only Alaskan among them wasn’t the leader of a tribe but a corporation: Chris McNeil, CEO of Sealaska. He says he focused on three issues: subsistence rights, changes to the 8a program that helps Native corporations win government contracts, and community development financing.
Like many other indigenous languages, Tlingit is in survival mode. Revitalizing the language was the focus of this year’s Tlingit Tribes and Clans Conference held in Juneau last week.
A Juneau resident has one solution for how to keep the language alive. During a conference session, realtor and assemblyman Carlton Smith gave participants a lesson in how to teach Tlingit to children with puppets. And he does it with the help of a special guest.
Charlie introduces himself in Tlingit to the room. As is traditional, he recognizes his mother’s relatives, his fathers’ relatives, then his grandparents, and finally, he recognizes everyone else.
Charlie’s Tlingit name is Shanak’w Uwaa. He identifies his moiety (Eagle), his clan (Keet Gooshi Hit’), and where he’s from (Klukwan, or Jil’ kat kwaan).
Charlie is wearing grey Carhartt overalls, long underwear, a green and white flannel shirt, and tan work boots. He has a full head of grey hair, dark bushy eyebrows and mustache, and black-rimmed glasses.
He’s roughly three and a half feet tall and can only talk when he’s sitting on Carlton Smith’s lap.
Smith got into ventriloquism fifty years ago as a ten-year-old boy living in Haines. When Smith was bedridden with hepatitis for four months, his father bought him his first puppet from a Sears-Roebuck catalog – a red-headed figure wearing a green suit named Jerry.
“There were children walking below my bedroom window and Jerry and I were talking to them as they would walk home from school,” Smith tells the audience. “The first day or two, there were five or six children, the second day there were eight or nine. By the end of the week, there were 20 children that came to see this little green man that wanted to talk to them from a second story window.”
Like many childhood toys, Jerry was eventually forgotten, until three years ago when Smith rediscovered Jerry in a trunk.
Then, another discovery on a flight to Anchorage.
“I was looking out the window and I realized I could count to ten without moving my lips in Tlingit. And then I was going right down the list of clans and place names and I thought, ‘Oh, this is kind of cool.’”
That’s how Smith got the idea of doing Tlingit ventriloquism, but he wasn’t sure how the community would receive it. So he went to the late Tlingit elder and religious leader Dr. Walter Soboleff for advice. Soboleff liked the idea but said it couldn’t be done with Jerry. He advised Smith to create a new figure – a Native one.
“My namesake, Shanak’w Uwaa, means ‘in the image of the ancient people.’ Walter said, ‘He was one of my best friends from Kilisnoo. He said, ‘What you do is you create a brand new figure in the image of the person you’re named after.’”
As Smith looks at Charlie, he says, “That’s who this is – Shanak’w Uwaa.”
Shanak’w Uwaa is the Tlingit name of Charlie James of Klukwan, who would be 108 years old if he were alive today. Smith never met his namesake.
Using photos of Charlie James, Smith worked with a figure maker in Michigan on details like skin tone and hair color.
Charlie, says Smith, was created for one main purpose, “This is really about children.”
For a year and a half, Smith and Charlie went to Tlingit and Haida Headstart every Friday. “These little kids would just want to grab him, claw him,” Smith recalls.
Charlie would sing songs in Tlingit and count to ten.
Smith says children are captivated by the animation which makes learning Tlingit easier.
Later on in the conference session, participants are asked to pair up and make basic Tlingit dialogue with sock puppets, an activity that can be done with children. Two Tlingit teachers – Roby Littlefield and Bessie Jim – pair up.
“She asked me what my name was and I pretended not to hear her,” Littlefield says, interpreting. “So she asked me louder. One of us asked where do you live?”
Neither has spoken the language with puppets before, but both like the idea. Jim plans to bring the technique back to her students in Carcross, Yukon.
“I think they’ll get a lot more out of it and it’s more fun. And my brother used to say, ‘The language is fun.’ He said, ‘They’re always laughing,’” Jim says, laughing herself.
Littlefield says teaching with puppets can help her middle school students in Sitka with something they’re working on right now, “We’re learning the animal names and we have little stuffed animals and little hard animals. So they’re going to learn the name of the animals and then talk to each other in whatever puppet voice they choose.”
The most important thing, says Smith, is having fun. His goal at the conference was to share a different way of teaching Tlingit to children, a way that might breathe new life into a challenging task. And he hopes Charlie will help accomplish that.
This week we head to Kiana, a village of about 350 people on the Kobuk River about 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Bertha Barr works for the village’s food distribution program.
“Bertha Barr, I live in Kiana, I work for the Food Distribution Reservation and Indian Reserve, FDPIR. It’s just where I’ve lived my whole life and what I’m used to and all the friendly people and my family and all the subsistence lifestyle and all that.
We have mountains all around and there’s three rivers that’s what the native village of Katyaak means, “where three rivers meet.” It’s the Kobuk River, and it’s the Squirrel River and it’s the small channel.
There’s mountains, the mountains out here. In summertime there’s sandbars all over. There’s a sandbar right in front. There are sandbars on the side. Summertime we go out boating, fishing for salmon and sea fish. Wintertime we go out hunting for caribou and uh, birds.
The rivers are starting to freeze over, they’re actually ice-fishing right now and they’re actually catching what we call tiktaalik.
There’s no restaurants, but there’s places to rent if you’re staying for a short period of time. In the summer time we have this company, it’s called Kiana Lodge so they get actually people, tourists, and they come and go stay at the lodge and go fishing or hunting.
It’s just a real beautiful town and friendly people and come and go visit.”
More police officers will be patrolling downtown Anchorage late at night when the bars let out, starting this weekend.
Officers will patrol in cars and on foot downtown overnight on the weekends.
Mayor Dan Sullivan says he directed more police downtown during during bar break to deter crime and to increase safety. The decision came after a string of violent crimes in the downtown area this year followed by meetings about the problem with the Police Chief and groups representing downtown businesses.
The decision means at least eight more officers will be on the night shift downtown. The patrols start Friday, Nov. 15.
Would tribal law enforcement jurisdiction help address the social and cultural problems in rural Alaska? It has been debated for decades, and now a congressionally-mandated panel says it’s the only way to go. But, a Supreme Court ruling says there is no Indian country in most of the state.
HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network
- Troy Eid, Chairman, Indian Law and Order Commission
- Callers Statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly voted during their regular meeting Thursday to approve a land exchange sale between the Borough and Chena Hot Springs Resort.
It’s a deal that’s been in the works for more than a decade. It stalled earlier this year after a disagreement over the appraised value of the property.
Assemblyman Michael Dukes has been unhappy with the negotiations to sell nearly 1,500 acres of Borough property to Chena Hot Springs Resort for most of the year.
“I cannot support it based on all the shenanigans,” he said. “Even just the appearance of shenanigans in my opinion at this point.”
Resort owner Bernie Karl originally agreed to purchase the land at fair market value. The property was appraised at $390 per acre in the spring, but Karl told the Assembly he didn’t believe he was getting a fair deal.
In July, Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins’ administration proposed an ordinance that applied a credit of more than $282,000 to the total purchase price for improvements and access easements.
Dukes says the credit fundamentally changes the terms of the original purchase agreement.
“The whole reason this land sale exchange has gone forward as an exchange was because there was something being offered and it was the easements,” he told the Mayor. “The access at no costs to the borough, meaning they weren’t going to get a credit for it.”
Lance Roberts offered an amendment to raise the purchase price of the land based on his estimation that trail improvements made by the Resort, would directly benefit Chena Hot Springs.
“There’s going to be more public out there using those trails and this is going to get the resort more business because of a better trail system out there,” Roberts said.
The amendment failed after a lengthy debate.
John Davies pointed to the Resort’s reputation arguing that what’s good for the Resort is also good for the Borough.
“The role that Chena Hot Springs has played in increasing winter tourism in this town is in no small measure due to the marketing and attraction that the Karl’s have created out there at the Hot Springs,” Davies said.
In his closing remarks, Presiding Officer Karl Kassel told the assembly he believes negotiations went poorly, but he doesn’t think either party could have fared better.
“The bottom line for me is that we’ve gotten to what I feel is probably a fair price for the property and it’s within our best interest to move forward even though I’m not happy about the process of how we got here,” Kassel said.
The Resort will pay more than $297,000 for the land with 10 percent down at 6 percent interest over 15 years. The Borough will survey the boundary at a cost of $15,000.
The Alaska State Troopers’ largest patrol vessel is back in service after an engine upgrade in its home port of Dutch Harbor. The patrol vessel Stimson was out of commission for 10 days earlier this month during the overhaul.
Skipper Troy Magnusen says the patrol vessel’s engines were well past their prime.
“One of our engines was about 800 hours over rebuild time, and the other was about 1800 hours over,” he says.
So Magnusen says the engines were upgraded piece-by-piece while the vessel was in port. The project cost about $175,000.
There were no impacts to patrols, though the maintenance work did keep the troopers from helping respond to a maritime disaster — the grounding of the fishing vessel Arctic Hunter on November 1st.
Now that they’re up and running, Magnusen says the Stimson has one patrol left this year — though he couldn’t say when or where to avoid tipping off fishermen who might be breaking regulations.
“We do a lot of the Bering Sea patrols, for the king crab, opilio,” he says.
Next year, they’ll be back on their other beats.
“We do the Bristol Bay red salmon season in the summertime. We enforce the … Sand Point/False Pass area, for cod and salmon,” Magnusen says. “We run out to Adak a couple of times a year to do cod out that direction and also for the caribou season, the hunting season that they have out there, [and] search and rescues if needed.”
Even though there’s plenty of work for the Stimson in Western Alaska, the engine maintenance project reignited rumors that the troopers wanted to move the vessel elsewhere.
Operations commander Burke Waldron says it’s staying put for now. But he says there is some truth to those rumors.
“We are constantly evaluating where our boats, both large and small, airplanes and people are stationed, and if we can be more efficient or better serve the state by moving those assets or resources around,” Waldron says.
Kodiak is the homeport for the P/V Woldstad. Together, the Woldstad and Stimson cover Western Alaska.
Waldron says it makes sense to keep the Stimson where it is — so it can focus on the Chain.
“Right now it’s suited well for the Aleutian chain and Bristol Bay and Arctic fisheries patrols. [It] also, you know, provides public safety services to the Aleutian chain,” he says. “Obviously if we move the boat away from that region, that would have additional costs for us, and travel time, to get to some of those patrols.”
With money tight in the state right now, that’s something the troopers are trying to avoid. With their latest investment in the Stimson, Waldron says the troopers should be able to get a lot more work out of the vessel.
Lower Kuskokwim school officials say it was a 2nd grade student with a lighter that caused the fire in a detached building’s bathroom.
The school will be disciplining the 2nd grade student according to the district’s policies.
“Typically that would be a suspension and the days would be the determining factor, it could go up to an include expulsion, but that would really depend on the age of the student and the conditions surrounding the event,” Jacob Jensen, the Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent, said.
No flames left the bathroom, according to the fire department, but the classroom suffered serious damage.
“There was quite extensive damage to the building, so we’re investigating what repairs might be necessary to bring it up to code, or if that building is even worth repairing or not,” Jensen said.
Jensen says that the teacher, Jill Hoffman, did an exemplary job of evacuating students and keeping everyone safe and calm. He says the response was textbook and the fire department put out the fire before it could spread beyond the bathroom. Jensen says incidents like this are something that the district is working to prevent.
“Obviously we’re not going to frisk every student that comes in the door. We’ve go to take into account that kids do things and don’t think about them. We’re going to be looking at protocols and policies and procures to see if there is something we can do in the future to prevent something like this,” Jensen said. ”But a lot of it has to do with awareness and talking to the kids and having the fire department is in there talking abut fire safety. And that we’re taking those lessons and making kids understand that fire is dangerous.”
The 2nd grade class is a bit in limbo at the moment, as students are spread amongst other classrooms while the school works to find a permanent solution.
Alaska’s congressional delegation is pushing for disaster funds related to 2012’s low Chinook runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. Twenty-two new lawmakers are now included on a letter of support for $150 million in relief to be spread across other national fishery disasters.
The group now includes prominent East Coast senators like Charles Schumer and Marco Rubio. A total of 38 senators and house members are listed.
The $150 million have been included in a 2014 appropriations bill, but it has not been passed. The lawmakers say the money could be used in a variety of ways, including direct assistance to residents and scientific studies.
The funding would also covers disasters related to Cook Inlet salmon, plus Florida oysters, Mississippi blue crab, and lost fishing from Hurricane Sandy.
Bethel’s rural status is not immediately at risk. But once the population hits 7,000, it will be presumed to be non-rural unless it proves to have rural characteristics.
The federal subsistence board is in a multi-year process of reviewing how it decides which communities have the critical rural priority for accessing resources on federal lands as described under ANILCA.
That process was the subject of a meeting in Bethel Wednesday, but most people gave their thoughts on Bethel.
Alan Joseph said that the population thresholds are somewhat arbitrary.
“Say if the community became non-rural at 7,000 it would be like telling Yup’iks in Bethel that at 12 o’clock that that stop being Yup’iks,” Joseph said. ”You have to look at the way the people live and decide to keep it that way.”
There are communities above 7,000 people still considered rural, like Sitka and Kodiak. To remain rural, they have to show rural characteristics. Mary Gregory made the case that subsistence is at the core of many people’s lives.
“If you come to my house right now you will find 10 pikes hanging in my kitchen trying to dry out and a string of tomcods that are also hanging and my house smells like fish because I’m a 99.9 percent subsistence food user,” Gregory said. ”A lot of people are like that, especially the elderly people who live here.”
Ignacious Louie Andrew recognized that change has accelerated in recent years, but the basic native values are still strong:
“We have gone through a tremendous changes, but as we continue to change, subsistence traditional native practices and values will provide a continuity to the past,” Andrew said..
Bethel specifically sees a lot of turnover, according to Roberta Chavez.
“People come and go to bethel all the time you see them moving here, leaving here,” Chavez said. ”The people that remain have been here since time immemorial and they have the right to continue to live that way.”
There are a total of 10 meetings happening all around the state. Comments will be analyzed and brought to the Federal Subsistence Board. Steve Kessler works as the Forest Service’s subsistence program leader and says the comments are important to the process.
“Are these thresholds guidelines the correct ones to use, or should we be using something else,” Kessler said. “Should we be aggregating communities in some other way?”
“What does the public think the federal subsistence board and the secretaries of interior and agriculture ought to be using to determine which communities are rural?”
The board will meet in April and could propose changes to pass up to the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, who ultimately make the call. You can give comments by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for comments is Dec. 2.
President Obama said today insurers can continue offering the plans they intended to cancel as part of the Affordable Care Act.
The announcement is a response to outcry over the President’s “if you like your plan you can keep it” promise, which turned out to be untrue for millions of Americans.
Now, state insurance regulators and insurance companies have to figure out if they can make Obama’s new plan work.
Last month, Premera Alaska sent out health insurance cancellation notices to more than 5000 people in the state. With President Obama’s new announcement, the company may be able to send out very different letters to those same people. But Premera spokesperson Eric Earling says it will take a few days to sort out how to proceed.
“Premera is assessing what this means, we’re going to be evaluating options for our consumers and then getting them information as soon as we feasibly can on what their options are,” he said.
Earling says there is already a lot of confusion over the Affordable Care Act and this new twist is likely to increase that confusion. And he says the change will create a lot of work for Premera, but ultimately, he thinks it’s good for customers.
“As a general principal, yes, we’d prefer to have more options, not less in helping them navigate changes relating to the Affordable Care Act,” Earling said.
There are a lot of tricky details to consider. First, Alaska’s Insurance director Bret Kolb has to figure out whether these canceled insurance plans can be revived. He’s not sure if it’s possible under state law and in such a compressed timeline.
“It will be a big job,” he said. “A lot of the burden I believe would end up falling on the insurers first and then back onto the state to review rates and forms in a very expedited manner, if that’s even a possibility.”
Kolb plans to make a determination as quickly as possible.
Senator Lisa Murkowski has been critical of President Obama’s “If you like your plan you can keep it” promise. But she’s not sure the President has found a good fix:
“I’m just not sure how workable this is,” Murkowski said.
And Murkowski is frustrated the president’s proposal only extends the canceled insurance plans for a limited time.
“Now he’s saying you can keep your plan for a year if the insurance companies are able to kind of recalibrate if you will, and provide for that policy,” she said.
Murkowski’s office has heard from several Alaskans upset over their insurance plan cancellations in the last month.
The State Division of Insurance estimates 9,000 Alaskans received cancellation notices this fall because of the Affordable Care Act.
Western Alaska has been wracked by storms the last few days. The first round occurred Saturday night and into Sunday morning. Before clean-up efforts were even finished in some of the worst-hit communities, strong winds and coastal flooding did more damage last night.
Schools were closed in Fairbanks for a second day on Thursday due to stormy weather. Driving conditions are slick, and more than 13,000 households were without power this morning. Golden Valley Electric Association had the number down to a few thousand by mid-day, but expected it will take until Friday morning to restore power to some remote neighborhoods.
The state is currently putting money toward five different large-scale projects aimed at reducing energy costs on the Railbelt. Some, like subsidizing Cook Inlet gas production, impact energy costs now and in the near term. Other projects, like the proposed LNG pipeline wouldn’t affect prices for at least a decade. The question is—should the state be supporting all of the projects?
State agriculture officials are advising Alaska livestock owners how to cope with the high cost of feeding their animals. Feed prices have risen sharply following last summer’s drought that hurt the interior hay and straw crop.
A new report on suicide in Alaska from the State Division of Public Health’s epidemiology section, found rates are higher in more northern regions. Erik Woelber is a graduate student intern with the epidemiology section. Woelber says the study breaks communities into three categories by size and road access and looks at factors that may have contributed to the suicide rate. Woelber says the rates of suicide at higher latitudes merits more research.
Careline-Alaska Crisis Intervention 1-877-266-4357 (HELP)
Townsend – The study was exploratory, but there was an interesting finding regarding higher rates at higher latitudes. Tell us about that?
Woelber – According to the model, the suicide was higher at higher latitudes. And the result was statistically significant even when you controlled for things like median income, or the size of the population or whether it was rural or urban, so it’s a really interesting result. Because the study was exploratory , we can’t really say conclusively that suicide does vary with latitude, but it’s certainly an area that we should focus more work on in the future to see if it actually does make a difference.
Townsend – Were there findings within the higher latitude areas, where the higher the latitude, the more the rate or were there distinctions in that regard?
Woelber – Well the rates actually fluctuate quite a bit from community to community. When you’re dealing with suicide, you’re actually dealing with a low probability event. So, in many communities there are actually zero suicides and then you’ll have a few communities that even with one or two suicides, over an eight year period are already at four to five or ten times the national average just because the communities are so small. So, it’s difficult to look at one community and draw a conclusive data from one, which is why we looked at every community statewide. We have about 300 or so census designated places in Alaska and so when you look at 300 communities you can actually start to develop trends statistically.
Townsend – Any idea what may be going on there with the higher latitudes?
Woelber – It’s actually really unclear what the reason is for the association is with latitude. You could say that is has to do with differences that vary with latitude in access to services. You could say there are collinear relationships with funding for suicide prevention or weather or physical activity, access to firearms. At this point, it’s just educated conjecture which one of these variables it might be or if it’s in fact a combination of all of them.
Townsend – Has this been looked at before or was this a surprising finding?
Woelber – Geographic latitude hasn’t really been looked at this way in the state of Alaska. Latitude has been shown to correlate with higher suicide rates in Japan for instance. They have higher suicide rates in more northern prefectures. There are also high suicide rates in circumpolar communities such as in Greenland, which actually has the highest suicide rate in the world, which is five times Alaska’s average.
Townsend – In this study, states that have the highest rates of suicide, also have a lot of geographic area that is rural communities. Talk a little bit about what those findings were and the states that are associated with those higher rates that are in the top one or two in the nation.
Woelber – So this study didn’t look at suicide rates by state nationwide, but the correlation we can draw from national data are still relevant for Alaska. For instance when you look at the rates that have the highest rates of suicide, they’re Alaska, Montana, Wyoming. These are all states that have quite a few things in common. Among those are high amounts of rural areas and also high rates of self reported gun ownership.
Townsend – What’s next, do you plan to zero in the latitude issue and also some of these other factors that come into play in states that have a lot of rural territory.
Woelber – In terms of follow up to this study. I think the main thing is to look at latitude more closely and perhaps design a study that’s more focused on figuring out why there’s a correlation there. As I said before, this study was really exploratory so, when you design an epidemiological study like this, you design it differently when it’s exploratory versus where you’re looking at one variable specifically. So what we’d want to look at if we wanted to look more closely at latitude, is looking for some of the variables that actually affect the relationship between latitude and suicide rate and see if it’s not really latitude or if it’s something else because latitude is just a number. So there’s quite a bit that could correlate with it.
Townsend – How long does it take to develop a study like this?
Woelber – I would say the research community in this area is pretty wide. So it’s not just in Alaska that this type of research is going on. It’s really nationwide or even global. So when you release a study like this, it’s possible that future researchers even if they’re in England or Norway or Sweden or Greenland will see it and then determine that maybe they should control for latitude and for further studies in the future.
Townsend – Other findings?
Woelber – We found a couple things. One was that of all the suicides that happen in Alaska, roughly 79% were male. Which is roughly in line with previous studies that have shown that men are at three to four times increased risk for suicide compared to females. Another was 60% occurring in cities, 14% occurring in small hubs and towns and roughly 26% occurring in rural villages. Rates are still higher in rural areas. They’re about 40 to 45 per 100,000 people per year and cities are 15 to 16 per 100000 per year. The national average is somewhere around 10 to 11 per 100,000 per year and Alaska’s rate overall is 20 to 23 per 100,000
Townsend – In the findings, where you were looking at latitude, were there implications that suggested it was because of the extreme change of light and darkness?
Woelber – So when people hear that suicide rates correlate with latitude, one of the ways that a lot of people have interpreted this is that suicide rates are higher in areas where there are low levels of daylight in the extreme winter months in December and January. However, in Alaska and also in many other places, there’s actually no increase in suicide rates during the winter months. In fact if you look at the last eight years of data, there really isn’t any cyclical trend in suicide rates that’s seasonal over the course of the year. If anything, those rates are slightly higher in May and June. That would seem to suggest that it doesn’t have to do with darkness or seasonal affective disorder in the winter, but we certainly can’t rule out that the extreme seasonal fluctuations in daylight don’t cause some other affect by some other mechanism that’s perhaps not an acute affect.