- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young was among a majority of House members who voted Thursday to change the Obama-era health care law, saying inaction on fixing what he sees as a broken system was not an option.

The move toward dismantling the law came as the governor of Alaska, Bill Walker, said the state stood to be the most negatively impacted by the bill.

“Today is not great,” Alaska insurance director Lori Wing-Heier said.

Young had been undecided on the bill as of Wednesday, his spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, said.

But Young said Thursday he received commitments from the Trump administration and House leadership that Alaska would benefit from provisions in the bill, including funding to address the high costs of care in rural, sparsely populated states.

Young also said he was assured that additional Alaska-specific health care concerns would be addressed in future legislation.

“Given the choice of doing nothing or moving forward on efforts to roll back the many destructive policies of Obamacare, I chose the latter,” Young said in a statement.

Shuckerow said he wasn’t privy to the details of those conversations and didn’t know when they took place.

Young in a statement called Thursday’s vote the first of many steps in a long process to repeal the existing health care law, passed under former President Barack Obama.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would, among other things, replace income-based subsidies for people buying individual policies with tax credits that would grow with age. It also would end tax penalties on those who don’t buy health insurance.

The proposed credits are paltry, particularly for lower-income Alaskans, given the state’s pricey premiums, Wing-Heier said.

Alaska is down to one insurer offering individual health policies.

One of the more popular health plans, often used as a benchmark for comparing costs between states, on average costs a 40-year-old nonsmoker $927 per month in Alaska before any subsidies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Walker, a Republican-turned-independent, said in a statement that Alaska would be hit hardest by the bill.

Wing-Heier said attention will now shift to working with Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to restore funding, keep the individual health market stable and continue the expanded Medicaid program.

Murkowski, who has a reputation as a moderate, told reporters she expected the Senate to undertake its own process in crafting a bill and could not say how much of the House bill might be retained.

It’s important to address issues of access and rising health care costs, she said. In the near term, it’s also important to look at ways to stabilize the insurance market, she added.

Murkowski said there are elements of the existing law that should remain, such as allowing those younger than 26 to be on their parents’ insurance and barring insurers from discriminating against pre-existing conditions.

She noted that Alaska has benefited from expanded Medicaid, which extended health coverage to more lower-income people. So far, about 33,000 Alaskans have received coverage under expanded Medicaid.

“I want to make sure that we’re not pulling the rug out from under those” who have benefited from expanded Medicaid, Murkowski said.

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