Better Health for All Alaskans
Over the past six years, I have worked with my colleagues in the legislature to provide better access to healthcare, educate Alaskans about serious illnesses and how to avoid them, and increase medical professionals in Alaska.
I sponsored legislation to support safer homes and healthier families by banning the use of polybrominated fire retardants (PBDEs) in mattresses, upholstered furniture and plastic housing of electronics. Alaskans are particularly vulnerable to these toxins because of our cold climate, larger consumption of subsistence foods which ingest these toxins and larger amount of time indoors with little ventilation. Infants are at particular risk as accumulated toxins are transferred from mother to child in utero.
I supported a bill (Senate Bill 127) to raise awareness about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). FASD is a condition caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol, which can result in permanent brain damage, birth defects, learning disabilities, behavioral problems and the loss of individual potential. Right now, Alaska has the highest known incidence of FASD in the United States.
I fought for early detection and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders. I sponsored a bill (Senate Bill 74), which requires insurance coverage for autism, including behavior therapies, which after 30 years of study have shown to be the only effective treatment. SB 74 passed the Legislature in 2012 with broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.
Increasing Access to Healthcare
Access to healthcare continues to be a concern for many. I continue to be an avid supporter of expanding healthcare to our youngest generations. In 2010, the Legislature overwhelming supported expanding qualifying limits for Denali KidCare to 200 percent of federal poverty level which is well within Alaska’s budget. This would make health insurance accessible to an estimated 1277 more uninsured children and 225 pregnant women. This legislation was vetoed by the Governor but we are continuing to fight to expand healthcare for our children.
Teaching healthy habits is an important role as parents, educators and mentors. I introduced a bill that would direct the State to invest funds to school meals so we can provide healthier meals for our children and teach them early on the importance of a well balanced meal. Last year, we included $3 million in the capital budget for the purchase of healthy Alaskan foods for school meals and an additional $3 million is proposed in the FY14 capital budget. It is important that we lead by example to teach our children healthy habits they will carry forward into their adulthood.
Building a Healthier Future
The best way to help all Alaskans live longer and healthier lives is through prevention and treatment. That’s why I supported funding capital investments that will bring better healthcare to Alaskans, including:
- $8 million for a new Blood Bank of Alaska facility
- $900,000 for Hope Community Center, serving Alaskans with disabilities
- $750,000 for the Alaska Medicare Clinic, serving Alaska’s seniors
- $800,000 for the Clitheroe Center, helping chronic inebriates
- $3.25 million for Access Alaska, serving disabled seniors and others
- $762,000 for Arc of Anchorage, helping children and adults with developmental disabilities or mental health issues
- $450,000 for an adult care facility run by the Anchorage Community Mental Health Services
- $101,000 for the Alaska Cancer Care Alliance
Other pieces of legislation that I have supported to improve the health of all Alaskans includes the creation of a loan repayment and incentive program which is aimed at reducing the shortage of health care professionals in the state, promote and increase protections for our elders who are facing alarming rates of abuse and neglect, and an increase of allowable medical students to participate in the WWAMI program to help address Alaska’s physician-to-patient population.