Many Alaskans fly to Seattle to receive health services – Reform State

Many Alaskans are flying to Seattle to receive health services, which has led to some productive connections and sparked a conversation about increased medical collaboration between Alaska and the northwestern states.

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Alaskan Senator Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage) has worked on many health initiatives since taking office in 2017. Over the course of her political career, she has noticed an increasing number of Alaskans seeking health care in Seattle.

“I’m looking at how healthcare costs have increased dramatically for the state of Alaska over the past decade,” von Imhof said. “And for this reason, some companies have chosen to pay their employees to fly to Seattle for non-urgent conditions. Whether it’s an MRI, a CT scan, or annual treatments. I can’t name what companies they are, I just know that private companies are doing it. There has been more employer-sponsored medical tourism. I heard it anecdotally. It’s just cheaper in the long run. “

A 2020 Alaskan Politics Forum report shows that Alaska’s per capita health expenditure has grown faster than the national average for several decades. The state’s per capita health care spending was more than $ 11,000 in 2020, a figure higher than that of any other state.

Several factors have contributed to the rising costs of health care in Alaska, von Imhof said, including the lack of competition, the lack of patient volume, and the 80th percentile rule. The rule requires insurers to base their payments for offline claims on the amount equal to or greater than 80% of what all providers charge for a specific service in a given area of ​​the state.

“We have to get rid of it,” von Imhof said of the rule. “It doesn’t matter if the doctor’s billing is $ 4,000 or $ 40,000, they have to pay 80%. So insurance companies are trying to negotiate with different doctors to lower the price. But when you have an oligopoly, we have a very narrow market. chasing a few dollars “.

The senator serves on the board of trustees of the Seattle Children’s Foundation. During meetings, council members have the opportunity to see the number of out-of-state patients seen at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“They show maps on the wall to start meetings and show how many people [are] from Idaho, Montana and Alaska, “von Imhof said.” There are a lot of people at any given time who have flown to Seattle for treatment. And these are obviously just children. “

Dr. Howard Jeffries, Senior Medical Director at the Seattle Regional Children’s Network, said the Seattle hospital conducts approximately 3,000 outpatient visits for patients from Alaska per year.

“We also conduct nearly 1,000 telemedicine appointments to Alaskan children each year,” Jeffries said.

Seattle Children’s also operates facilities in Alaska. Seattle Children’s Pediatric Cardiology of Alaska is based in Anchorage and is run by two doctors and several nurses, Jeffries said.

“The team also provides statewide support at 14 sites,” said Jeffries. “The cardiology team visits over 2,000 patients annually at all of these sites. Seattle Children’s providers of neurology, pulmonology, nephrology, neurodevelopmental, rheumatology, and adolescent medicine see patients at various sites throughout Alaska.

Von Imhof’s family members receive care at Seattle Children’s. Her daughter was operated on to remove a brain tumor in 2016 and immediately recognized the remarkable amount of talent that surgeons offer there. Seattle’s emergence as a technology hub for global companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon has helped attract talent to the local healthcare sector as well, von Imhof said.

“It is a major hub of medical research, innovation, creativity and technology that opens up new frontiers,” said von Imhof. “Some of the best talent in the United States is flocking to Seattle to join the effort. If your case is complicated, go to Seattle. “

Seattle Children’s is making great strides in neurology, epilepsy, autism and traumatic brain injury, von Imhof said.

“Seattle Children’s has become the Mayo Clinic of the West for the past several decades, if you will,” he said.

Jeffries said more than 400 Alaskan children are discharged from Seattle Children’s every year. Some common services for which they are admitted include cancer care (22%), cardiac care (14%), neurology and neurosurgery (15%), pediatric surgery (10%), and orthopedic surgery (10%).

“There are several pediatric specialists living in Anchorage,” Jeffries said. “However, when the complexity of the care needed outshines what is available locally, these children need to travel to care.”

Von Imhof’s husband has surgeons in both Seattle and Anchorage. They communicate effectively to cure her illnesses, he told her. And von Imhof believes there should be greater collaboration between healthcare workers in Seattle, Alaska and other WWAMI states (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) in order to increase healthcare options for patients.

“I think it’s very beneficial to have a symbiotic relationship with these WWAMI states,” von Imhof said. “I think it’s a good thing. There should be no territory wars, there should be no people jostling in the way. There should be collaboration and cooperation. And with the doctors I work with, there is. It was fantastic with my team. “

Jeffries said Seattle Children’s goal of caring for children in all states of WWAMI, regardless of their families’ ability to pay for services.

“Families come to Seattle Children’s for the excellent clinical care they receive in an environment focused on reducing health inequalities and providing culturally appropriate care,” said Jeffries.