ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - When lawmakers return to Washington next week after the August recess, Congress will pick up where it left off, battling over whether or not to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Last time around, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski played a key role in stopping her party's effort to roll back President Barack Obama's signature health law. On Tuesday, Murkowski told the Rotary Club of Anchorage what she hopes to see in new reform legislation.
"How about some provisions that will actually focus on reducing the cost of healthcare, instead of telling you as an employer you must provide it or you as an individual you have to have it," she told the crowd. "It's going to take an effort where we're all engaged in it. It can't just be a partisan bill. We went that way with ACA, and as Republicans we fought it for seven years. When you have a process that's going to deliver an all-Republican version, we might worry where that takes us."
One specific idea she offered to potentially reduce Alaska's highest-in-the-country health expenses: "Why would the 18,000 (Alaskans covered through ACA exchanges) not be able to participate in an already existing plan? Say, buy into the federal employee health benefit plan, buy into the state (government employee) plan," she said. "Why are we trying to ... create a completely new system?"
While the Last Frontier's senior senator said she is supportive of allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines, she said that would likely do little to reduce rates in Alaska.
"It's a great idea, but think about it: How unattractive are we?" she said. "We are high-risk. We are high-cost. Why does anyone want to say, 'Come on Alaska, bring all your expensive cases to us.' Tthey don't want us. They really don't."
A member of the crowd asked Murkowski whether or not she would support a single-payer system, where healthcare providers are paid for their services by the government instead of private insurers.
She pointed out that tens of thousands of Alaskans already receive care through single-payer systems, namely via the Veterans Health Administration, Tricare, and the Indian Health Service.
However, she said, "I don't see us moving to a true single-payer system. The reality is that we have set up a system that was based on a more free market approach. Whether you like the outcome of where we are or not, that's how we got to where we are as opposed to what you have in some European countries.
"Single-payer is not an easy answer, because at the end of the day, the debate and the fight over whose paying for it is ultimately the biggest question of all."