5 Things Alaska: Reopening the economy, Special session, Randi Anderson

Alaska, you’re doing a good job controlling the spread of this disease. Keep it up!

It’s not clear yet whether we will host our 2020 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference. We’ve moved our date back into late October. But, we won’t begin planning for that until we think we’re in the clear. I’m not sure we’ll be there by October. Who knows.

So, we are starting a series of webinars beginning next month. Think of these like the panels you’d come to expect at State of Reform: multi-perspective, thoughtful discussions trying to break down the silos in our health care system. If you have ideas for content for those sessions, let me know. We’ll start pulling together some of the best conversations taking place in the state and try to bring those to you in this new paradigm.

As always, thanks for your support of State of Reform!





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Alaska to begin reopening the economy

In a press conference yesterday, Gov. Dunleavy announced that restaurants, retail businesses, nail salons, and barber shops may begin opening Friday on a limited basis. Dunleavy says there will be 5 phases for reopening Alaska’s economy, with the details on the second phase announced next week. For now, bars, bowling alleys, and theaters will remain closed.

Alaska is part of the first wave of states beginning to reopen their economies and will be a place to watch as other areas of the country determine their own timelines. Dunleavy says the state will closely track the virus daily, weekly, and over 14-day periods to inform their next moves. Additional information on the first phase of reopening the economy will be posted here later today.

I think a candid assessment of re-opening a state like Nebraska or Georgia would tell one it’s too early to do that. In totality, the data don’t appear to support that. But, the data appear pretty good in Alaska, for now. Re-opening the state with an Rt of 0.47 probably makes sense.

2. Budget questions continue

The security of the state budget appears to be in limbo as legislators and financial experts question the legality of Dunleavy’s plan to use federal COVID funds to make up for budget vetoes enacted earlier this month. On April 7, Dunleavy announced he had vetoed over $200 million in state funding, claiming that the majority of the funds he vetoed could be replaced with federal funding under the CARES Act.

A group of Democratic senators quickly called into question Dunleavy’s plan to use federal funds, and Sens. Cathy Giessel and Natasha von Imhof sent a letter to the US Treasury Department asking for clarification. Legislative Legal Services Director Megan Wallace issued a memo stating that while additional clarification is needed from the federal government, it seems clear that “the emergency funding cannot be used to supplement existing budget items that are unrelated to the emergency.” Dunleavy’s office posted a series of documents outlining his plan to distribute the $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding on Tuesday evening.

3. Health policy in the special session

It would seem likely that we’re headed for a special session to address budget issues related to COVID. While most of the budget concerns relate to revenue, it’s clear that health care needs to be re-imagined for a post-COVID world.

In a new series that applies to all nine states we cover, we’re outlining a series of policy options that states like Alaska could consider. Our first proposal suggests states learn from Alaska’s re-insurance model. However, we think that approach should be extended to the rest of the group market, too. By lowering costs for employers, like the individual market, it’ll help to support the economic rebound needed.

Today, I wrote about the importance of a serological study which can be funded in the next special session each state convenes, drawing on California. Next, we re-imagine hospital funding, learning from Oregon and Maryland. Hopefully, the series helps you think about new innovations for health in Alaska.


4. Video: Randi Anderson, Virginia Mason

Randi Anderson is the manager of the Floyd Jones Learning, Innovation and Simulation Center at Virginia Mason. The center serves as an “education hub and incubator” where patients and their families collaborate with VM staff in the organization’s continuous improvement workshops to advance quality, safety, and efficiency. Anderson joins us in this edition of “What They’re Watching” to discuss the business of health care and corporate culture.

“If health care wants to stay a viable business, we can’t keep doing health care the way we’ve always been doing it…What we’re trying to do is create this culture where we’re constantly looking for how to improve it. It can be small-scale, tiny little increments or it can be large-scale process disruption. But either way you have to have the mindset that you’re going to change things in order to make it better and that doing what we’ve always been doing isn’t working any longer.”


5. The role of philanthropy in a pandemic

Organizations across the state have stepped up to aid communities during this public health emergency. Among those leading the way is the Mat-Su Health Foundation which announced on Tuesday a total of $738K in grants for local nonprofit service providers for COVID-19 prevention and response.

Other groups offering assistance include the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority which approved $1 million in COVID-19 response grant money and Sealaska which pledged $1 million to help Alaska Native communities respond to the virus. The Rasmuson Foundation, which has committed $2 million to help respond to COVID-19, breaks down an extensive list of the state, regional, and national resources available to Alaskans and nonprofit organizations.