AARP Alaska rally

AARP Alaska volunteer president Terry Snyder, center, speaks in the Mat-Su office of Sen. Lisa Murkowski Monday. Snyder and nearly 20 other AARP Alaska members urged both Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan to reject current healthcare legislation proposed in the U.S. Senate.

WASILLA — Some 20 members of the AARP Alaska crowded the hallway in front of the Mat-Su offices of U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski Monday morning to urge the lawmakers to vote no on any health care legislation currently proposed in the U.S. Senate.

AARP Alaska representatives met with both Margaret Sharpe, the Mat-Su Regional Director for Sullivan’s office, and Geri Sumpter, Murkowski’s Mat-Su liaison.

The rally at the local offices came ahead of Tuesday’s “motion to proceed” vote to take up debate on the health care bill that narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives in May, and part of a broader discussion to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

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The motion narrowly passed the Senate Tuesday, with Arizona Sen. John McCain returning to vote yes and Vice President Mike Pence ultimately breaking the 50-50 tie. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky could use the vote as a means to replace the House bill with other legislation that has largely been worked out behind closed doors with Republican senators.

The debate will largely focus on the GOP replacement package, better known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act and a separate bill repealing the ACA with a two-year delay.

Murkowski voted no Tuesday. She has voiced concern about the timeline and closed-door crafting of much of the of the Senate’s plan and objected to Senate leaders putting forth a bill that could potentially repeal the health law without providing a replacement. Sullivan, who also has voiced reservations about the Senate’s transparency in bringing its bill forward, voted yes on the motion.

Both senators have previously indicated that they don't want to roll back all of the Affordable Care Act.

“I have repeatedly said that healthcare reform, and especially major entitlement reform, should go through the committee process where stakeholders can weigh in and ideas can be vetted in a bipartisan forum,” Murkowski said in a news release after the vote.  “I voted ‘no’ today to give the Senate another chance to take this to the committee process.”

“Murkowski has been a little more up-front on the issue and she deserves a thank you,” Mary Jo Towne, the coordinator of the AARP Alaska Mat-Su Community Council, said outside Murkowski’s Wasilla office Monday.

Regardless of the vote, the AARP Alaska members assembled Monday emphasized what they said was the importance of rejecting any currently proposed health care legislation.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s BCRA, AHCA or repeal-only,” an AARP Alaska flyer distributed at the rally read in part.

At a similar rally in Anchorage Monday, a group called Protect Our Care delivered what it called “thousands of constituent messages” from across the state to Sullivan’s and Murkowski’s offices. The box of messages included photos, petitions, letters and postcards, which was delivered after speeches from a range of participants.

“This is a huge issue for the country and is especially that for Alaska,” said Terry Snyder, AARP Alaska volunteer president. “We have deep concerns about the legislation in its current form. It will mean higher costs and less care, especially for older Alaskans.”

The Alaska AARP group numbers some 86,000 in Alaska, Snyder said, adding that the state’s current economic downturn could only be driven down further by current health care plans, especially as it relates to Medicaid. According to AARP Alaska statistics, in 2017, more than 181,000 Alaskans “received health care coverage and long-term services through Medicaid and about 16,000 low-income Medicare beneficiaries in Alaska received Medicaid.”

Current proposed legislation would “shift more costs to the state in a time when we have been hit hard,” Snyder said.

Snyder said that while most AARP Alaska members feel there is much that can be improved with the ACA, “we just think Congress should focus on bipartisan solutions that will lower costs and improve care.”

“And this concern is not just for those over 50,” she said. “These bills have the potential to affect a younger population as well.”

Contact reporter Steven Merritt at 352-2269 or steven.merritt@frontiersman.com

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