We have come a long way towards making sure all Alaska Natives have access to high-quality, affordable health care. We still have plenty of work ahead of us, but we should be proud of the progress we’ve made. It is thanks to leaders like Senator Mark Begich that we are where we are today.
As someone who has spent most my adult life working to improve rural and tribal health services, I know how much work and time it takes to make even incremental progress. I have been continually impressed with and grateful for the enormous amount of time and dedication Mark Begich has given to these issues.
Time and time again, Mark Begich has demonstrated that when he says he will do something for Alaska Natives, he delivers.
Mark Begich made history by ensuring rural veterans can access health care close to home in communities like Nome, Barrow and Bethel without having to travel to a VA facility in Anchorage. I remember Mark promising he would achieve this goal if elected to the Senate. It was a big promise to make. But he worked nonstop to make his promise a reality.
Mark Begich initially introduced legislation to address the problem. When his bill was held up in Congress, Begich didn’t back down. Many opposed the idea. But Begich refused to take no for an answer. Because of his advocacy, the VA system in Alaska contracted with tribal health programs so that rural veterans, whether Alaska Native or not, can use their local health facilities instead of traveling hours or days to get care. This model is now being implemented all across the country, potentially helping millions of veterans receive care quickly. Wait times have decreased significantly as a result of these agreements.
Mark Begich was also instrumental in pushing the federal government this year to finally pay tribal health care providers the overdue contract support costs they were owed after decades of inaction. As a member of the Indian Affairs Committee, Senator Begich held the Obama administration accountable by delaying the reappointment of the IHS Acting Director until the government paid Alaska Tribal Health Providers what they were promised. This half a billion dollar boost delivered to Alaska because of Begich’s efforts helped everyone because Alaska Tribal Health Providers are often the only health care available in many communities.
Alaska Native people have also benefited from the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act that Mark Begich fought for. The IHS went almost two decades without Congress addressing new needs or changes to health care. We’ve come too far to jeopardize this vital funding.
In addition, Begich played a critical role in securing funding through the Recovery Act for new hospitals and clinics in Native communities all across the state including Barrow, Nome, Kenai, Copper Center, Wasilla and Fairbanks.
Much more work needs to be done to make sure all Alaska Natives have access to excellent health care services. I can whole-heartedly say Mark Begich is willing to fight for those services. Thousands of Alaska Natives already receive better, faster health care services thanks to his work.
Senator Mark Begich has been our unwavering ally, when so often our state’s elected officials have worked against us instead of with us. That is why it is so important that we vote for Senator Mark Begich this November. Quite simply, we can’t afford to lose him. We have too much work left to do. We need Senator Begich to help us to get there.
Valerie Davidson (Yup’ik) was born and raised in Bethel and Aniak. She has spent the last 15 years of her career working in the Alaska Tribal Health System in rural and statewide capacities. She advocates on both statewide and national levels to improve access and the quality of rural and Alaska Native health care.