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Health care bill has money for Alaska, home of a GOP holdout

UPDATED: Thu., July 13, 2017

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, center, heads to Capitol Hill this summer for a meeting on the Republican health care bill. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, center, heads to Capitol Hill this summer for a meeting on the Republican health care bill. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A provision in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rewritten health care bill appears to benefit only one state. That’s Alaska, home of one Republican holdout McConnell badly needs to keep the legislation alive, and her state might gain nearly $2 billion in federal money.

The language would give states with extremely high premiums an added piece of two funds the measure would create that together total $182 billion through 2026. The money is supposed to help insurers curb consumers’ coverage costs.

Analysts at the consulting firm Avalere Health and Cynthia Cox, who studies health insurance at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said Alaska seems to be the only state qualifying for the added money.

Avalere Health estimated the provision would mean $150 million for Alaska in 2018, $230 million in 2019 and additional amounts in subsequent years. Cox said the extra funding could total nearly $2 billion over the next decade.

Democrats resorted to a similar tactic when they were pushing President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care bill through the Senate, setting aside extra money for Nebraska to win support from that state’s Sen. Ben Nelson. It became known as the Cornhusker Kickback, was widely criticized and eventually removed.

McConnell, R-Ky., needs support from all but two of the 52 GOP senators to pass the bill. Two have already expressed opposition, and all Democrats are set to vote “no.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is among several GOP senators saying they’re undecided. Her state has unusually high medical costs because much of it is remote, and it relies heavily on Medicaid, which the bill would cut.

McConnell is planning a crucial first vote next week.

Under the bill, other states might qualify for extra money in the future. To get the money, a state’s premiums must be at least 75 percent above the national average.

Kaiser’s Cox said according to a benchmark used to measure premiums, Alaska’s average monthly premium is $927 this year. That is 157 percent higher than the national average of $361.

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