Senators Stevens, Murkowski, and Kennedy Champion Fishermen’s Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) today introduced the Commercial Fishing Industry Health Care Coverage Act with Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). This bill directs the federal government to work with states to help provide health insurance to commercial fishermen and their families. Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) is sponsoring the same legislation in the U.S House of Representatives.
Reasonably priced health insurance is difficult for fishermen to obtain because of the seasonal and dangerous nature of their profession.  In addition, most fishermen are self-employed or work for small businesses.  These factors drive up the costs of health insurance premiums.  Surveys conducted in different parts of the country show fishing families are significantly more likely to be uninsured than other Americans. 
The United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA) recently completed a survey, concluding that Alaskan commercial fishermen’s options for both health care delivery and insurance are limited.  UFA estimates that there are thousands of uninsured Alaska fisherman.   Alaska fishermen are more likely to work and live in communities without a hospital, while fewer private insurance companies offer individual or small business medical coverage in Alaska than in other states.
“Alaskans don’t have to watch Deadliest Catch to know that commercial fishing can be perilous,” said Senator Stevens. “But what alarms us is how difficult it is for fishermen to get affordable health care. This legislation addresses this growing problem by allowing fishermen to band together to purchase group coverage, which will give them an opportunity to get the health care they need.”
“This legislation will provide Alaskan fishermen and their families better access to comprehensive health insurance,” said Senator Murkowski.  “As health care becomes more expensive, families may be forced to look to other professions for access to insurance.  It would be a travesty to see the fleet of commercial fishermen dwindle because they simply can’t afford to keep themselves and their families healthy.”
The Commercial Fishing Industry Health Care Coverage Act would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to fund health care grants for commercial fishing states or organizations. The $50 million in funding authorized in this bill could also be used to help offset individual’s health insurance costs. In addition, commercial fishermen and their families who have no health insurance or who are underinsured could qualify for the health insurance programs set forth in this bill.  
The legislation would authorize a series of grant programs. To qualify for these funds, states or organizations must provide matching funds of $1 for every $2 in federal funding. Under the plans, coverage would extend to boat owners, captains, and crew, as well as other individuals performing fishing industry-related work, such as shore-side support company employees, and their families.
·    Research and Program Planning Grants – HHS would provide up to $200,000 annually for up to two years to organizations or states to conduct initial research and planning for development of a qualified health care coverage program within the state.
·    Implementation and Program Administration Grants – Programs that have completed the research and planning phase would be able to apply for initial implementation grants for up to $2 million annually for two years.
·        Administration Grants – Established programs would be eligible for administration grants of up to $3 million a year for up to five years.
·    Continued Administration Grants –  Programs that received administration grants for the full five years of eligibility, could apply for grants of up to $3 million annually for up to five years, if the state they serve  experiences insufficient fish stocks or depressed markets that jeopardize the ability of the program to continue providing affordable health care coverage.

Companion legislation was introduced on the House of Represenatives by Kennedy, Kerry, Frank, Tierney and Delahunt 

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