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Alaska’s State Planning Grant to Identify Options for Expanding Coverage for Alaska's Uninsured

HRSA Awards Alaska a State Planning Grant for Expanding Insurance Coverage to the Uninsured

The US Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded a grant in September, 2005 to the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services for examining ways to make health insurance more affordable and available to those currently uninsured. The grant funds will support in-depth studies of policy options, costs and benefits, and research into who is uninsured and why, including a repeat of a 2001 and 1993 survey of employers’ benefit offerings, a household survey, interviews and focus groups to research barriers and potential state coverage initiatives.

Objectives of the project include:

  1. getting information about policy options, baseline data to support selection and evaluation of strategies for improving coverage levels,
  2. getting the data for a clearer picture of state of health insurance coverage, barriers, gaps, and perceptions,
  3. increasing awareness and consensus about potential solutions, strategies, models, agreed-upon principles for action and for decision-making, and
  4. facilitating discussion of possible statutory and regulatory changes.

According to the Current Population Survey data for 2002-2004, about 117,000 Alaskans lack health insurance. That is about 18 percent of Alaska ’s population . (Twelve percent of children were uninsured in 2003 according to the CPS.) Of the uninsured, 85 percent have at least one person in the family who works either full-time or part-time. The age group with the highest proportion of uninsured is young adults 19-29, since Medicare covers most people 65 and over, and Denali KidCare and Medicaid help to cover low-income children who would otherwise be uninsured.

About 26 percent of Alaska employees worked for small employers in the year 2000 (firms with fewer than 20 employees). The Alaska Employee Benefits Survey of 2001 found that fewer than one third of firms with fewer than 10 employees (accounting for about 11,000 firms in Alaska out of 14,700 total) offered health insurance benefits. The most frequent reason given (47 percent) was the high cost of premiums.

There are direct and indirect costs and impacts on Alaskans related to the lack of insurance for nearly a fifth of the population. Also, the state and federal governments have invested enormous resources in the health care delivery system itself, with funding for operations and capital projects, and technical support to communities and provider organizations, for community health centers, hospitals, and diverse innovative programs, as well as recruitment, retention, and training of the health care workforce.

Statewide partners including representatives from both public and private sectors (including the University of Alaska and its research institutes, Community Health Centers and the Alaska Primary Care Association, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, provider organizations, Commonwealth North business roundtable and others) will be interviewed and invited to participate with the public in a series of forums on barriers to obtaining insurance and access to care, and on potential solutions.