Commentary: Alaska has good start on health care reform

State Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, has been working for years on comprehensive health insurance reform for Alaska. His bill, SB61, would mandate that each Alaskan get at least a minimum level of coverage, with state assistance available to those who can't afford the full price of insurance. Though it never got traction in the Legislature, French's bill was a good alternative for Alaska in the absence of any national plan.

But now, Congress and the president are pushing ahead with a federal plan aimed at both holding down the rising costs of medical care and making affordable health insurance available to everyone.

The health care crisis in this country is national in scope, and a national fix is the best way to go. Sen. French agrees, saying his bill might be superseded by a congressional decision.

The national plan is still taking shape. But it seems to be guided by a couple of solid principles: We shouldn't throw out the existing insurance system, and we must curb health care costs.

Our health care is based on a combination of government programs for senior citizens, low-income families, veterans and federal employees, and private insurance mostly through employers. It's reasonable as far as it goes. But many people are uninsured or only covered for catastrophes. Medical problems cause half of the personal bankruptcies in America, according to Sen. French's office.

In pursuing health care reform, it makes sense for the U.S. to build on what it already has. Realistically, the country is not going to turn to a government-run single-payer system like Great Britain has. That's too drastic a step. But we can open up existing programs, such as the Veterans Administration insurance or the insurance federal employees get, to more people. And we can regulate problems that crop up with the health insurance industry, such as when someone with an expensive, pre-existing medical condition can't find new coverage at any price.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.