What do you think?

In spite of setbacks along the way, more than seven million people enrolled in health insurance through the federal insurance marketplace by March 31. The dramatic turnaround in enrollment numbers between October and March, especially in the last few weeks, brought to my mind the classic underdog storyline. From the sidelines it was like watching the Mighty Ducks win the championship. But the game isn’t over and no doubt there are still interesting times ahead.

What do you think? What challenges do you see ahead as the country moves forward in enacting provisions in the Affordable Care Act? What solutions might you propose?

Please visit the Alaska Health Policy Review Facebook page to comment.

Should state law ban smoking in public places?

HB 360 Regulation of Smoking, one of the bills currently moving in the Alaska Legislature would prohibit smoking in indoor workplaces, businesses, and public places. It would replace the current Alaska smoking law, which prohibits smoking in more limited settings. In her letter of support, bill sponsor Rep. Lindsey Holmes states that the current smoking law allows municipalities to limit smoking but does not provide for unorganized boroughs to do the same, leaving about 70,000 Alaskans without protections from second-hand smoke.

In a recently-conducted House Health & Social Services Committee meeting most of the public testimony opposed the bill. The opposing arguments fell basically into three broad categories: first, the belief that the choice to smoke is a personal decision about which the government has no right to interfere; second, the belief that government has no right to interfere with business owner decisions with regard to whether smoking should be banned in the workplace.

Third, the argument most often cited: e-cigarettes should be excluded from the prohibitions as described in the bill. The owners of several e-cigarette stores were particularly adamant that e-cigarettes offer adequate protection to anyone in close proximity to users, thus, there is no need to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places.

So, that is our topic of discussion this week on the Alaska Health Policy Review Facebook page: HB 360. I encourage you to read the bill and related documents and to listen to the recording of the House Health & Social Services Committee meeting. Then hop on over the Alaska Health Policy Review Facebook page and share your thoughts about the bill.

Here are a few questions to get you started. Do you support or oppose the bill? Why? How do you feel about including e-cigarettes in the law? Does the state have a right to impose state-wide prohibitions against smoking?

Thank you for your comments.

What do you think about SHARP-II funding being slashed in House budget?

In the September 2013 issue of Alaska Health Policy Review, Alaska Center for Public Policy interviewed Robert Sewell, program manager for the Alaska SHARP programs. In the interview, Sewell explained that SHARP is a tool to recruit and retain selected health care professionals in designated health care shortage areas.

There are two parts to the SHARP Program: SHARP-I is funded jointly by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority (The Trust) and the state general fund. Most of the support for SHARP-II is from the state general fund, with an employer-match.

Recently, the Alaska House of Representatives voted to ax SHARP-II funding for 2015, reducing the operating funds to just over $800,000 from the approximately $2 million that Governor Parnell included in his budget. That is just about enough money for 37, rather than the anticipated 90 practitioners. Worries about how the reduction in funds will affect recruiting and retaining health care providers have been featured in the news lately. The Alaska Senate still has the opportunity to restore some or all of the operating funds.

How important do you think SHARP-II is to recruiting and retaining practitioners in Alaska? Why is it important? In the absence of a support-for-service program, what alternatives do we have to assist in recruiting and retaining practitioners in Alaska? Please jump over to our Facebook page and leave your comments with the related post. Thank you.

Don’t miss it! February 22 Open mic with Anchorage legislators

This Saturday, February 22, Anchorage legislators are offering their ears on any state issue. The first open-mic session in January was a full-house and discussion centered around education funding. This second session will run from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan will open the meeting and public testimony will follow.

Don’t miss this opportunity to speak and hear concerns on important state issues! Come to the Loussac Assembly Chambers at 3600 Denali St. in Anchorage.

Webinar on Raising the Minimum Wage, 11:00 AM on Thursday, February 13

Don’t miss “Why We Should Raise the Minimum Wage and How We Can Do it in 2014,” a webinar with Senator Tom Harkin.

Thursday, February 13

11:00 AM AK time 

Register now

From the Coalition on Human Needs:

The minimum wage has only been raised 3 times in the last 30 years. And the minimum wage for workers with earnings from tips has been stuck at the impossibly low $2.13/hour since 1991. It is well past time for a raise. Senator Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) are sponsoring The Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would increase the minimum wage in 3 steps to $10.10/hour. 

A large coalition of groups is coming together to make 2014 a year of action to raise the minimum wage. If you’re like us, you are longing to work towards real improvements in people’s lives – a refreshing alternative to constantly playing defense. Raising the minimum wage offers that opportunity – and this webinar will get you started (or give you new tools to work with).

Our distinguished presenters:

Senator Tom Harkin: Senator Harkin is Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the lead Senate sponsor of legislation to raise the minimum wage. He is in his fifth term in the Senate, and has announced his retirement at the end of this term. He is a tireless champion for workers and low-income people.

Christine Owens: Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project, Chris is a national spokesperson and expert on worker rights, including the minimum wage and unemployment insurance.

Moderator: Ellen Teller: Director of Government Relations, Food Research and Action Center and Chair of the Coalition on Human Needs’ Board of Directors.

Register now for this 60 minute webinar, to learn the latest facts about how the minimum wage increase will help workers, families, and the economy, how to dispel myths spread by opponents, and how to join in actions from local events to social media campaigns. You can ask questions and will get resource materials you’ll need.

Co-sponsored by the Coalition on Human Needs and the National Employment Law Project.

Please forward this announcement widely!


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