By Dave Donaldson
Anchorage Senior Citizens could have a new medical clinic this year under a plan unveiled at the capitol today. The primary care clinic would totally focus on patients who are covered by Medicare, and would be a starting point for those who need specialists’ services under the government program.
The need for the program comes from the realization that the federal Medicare program is not keeping up with the cost of medical services in Anchorage — to the point where physicians are refusing to continue serving some patients , and more refusing to accept new patients. A survey done by the clinic’s organizers found that of one hundred one doctors interviewed, only twenty eight were willing to accept new Medicare patients.
Dr. George Rhyneer, a retired cardiologist worked with three other doctors to find a way to fill the need.
The crux of the clinic is to streamline the way medicine is delivered. In a way, this rather novel to Alaska — and novel throughout the country — by using all the participants in the clinic to the highest degree of capabilities from the physicians on down to the people greeting folks at the front desk. And this whole concept came to us several years ago to the Medicare access problem, which didn’t seem to be amenable to federal repair.
He says every patient will still see a doctor, but the clinic will rely on more routine functions being done by nurses and nurse-practitioners. And as a primary care facility, it will arrange and refer patients for specialists’ services at other facilities.
House Finance Co-chair Mike Hawker said he has become “acutely aware” of medicare-eligible people not finding health care services in some parts of the state.
What we’re really offering here is a private sector solution to a government problem. And I applaud the effort, the professionalism, the time that went into bringing this idea forward in a careful strategic manner.
Hawker said a key element of the proposal is that — after a one-time, one-million dollar grant of what he calls “seed capital” — it will operate on its own without further state support. He says the business plan can, if necessary, be exported to other communities across the state — and he would welcome their requests for assistance in getting started.
The AARP has been part of planning the clinic. Marie Darlin is the group’s capitol coordinator. She says AARP supports the clinic completely — especially since it solves an immediate problem and, at the same time, can help other areas of the state plan for their own needs.
You have to start doing some planning because you know you have all these other seniors coming up who are going to be looking for where are they going to find a doctor or a clinic that is going to be able to help them. So it’s a case with the expanding senior population, we have to start looking at other ways.
Anchorage Democrat Les Gara introduced legislation earlier this week that would provide state assistance in establishing community health clinics for seniors to use. His bill would have picked up a federal allowance that would pay more for medical services in that sort of facility. However, Gara sees the Alaska Medicare Clinic as essentially the same service — and he supports it.
It doesn’t solve the full problem. It solves as much of the problem as Doctor Rhyneer can. It’s not like this problem is solved today and so the point of the legislation is to say that we want more of these proposals to come forward — until people who have paid for medicate insurance their whole lives actually can get medical treatment.
If the capital assistance is included in this year’s budget, Dr. Rhyneer says the clinic can be operating in Anchorage by the end of this summer.