5 Things Alaska: Overdose surge, Convening panel, Federal health policy agenda

This fall on September 14, we plan to host a hybrid event for our 2021 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference. It’ll be in-person at the Dena’Ina Convention Center, as well as virtually at our digital conference platform. So, if you register, you can choose either to be in-person or virtual right up until 10 days before the event.

Because we are building effectively two events this year (one in person and one virtual), our prices are moving up a bit. It represents about a 3.5% annual rate increase over our 2011 registration when we first started. Our early bird rates are in place until July 16th. So, if you think you’ll be ready to get back in person come September, we’d love to have you register. You can save yourself a few bucks by getting signed up before the fall. We’ll honor any refunds up until 10 days before the event. So you’ll have time to change your mind, if needed.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. 34 bills passed this session

During its 2021 regular session, the Alaska State Legislature passed a total of 34 bills – the 5th lowest number of bills passed of any year since statehood, according to ADN. Of that amount, just 6 bills that passed through the House and Senate Health & Social Services Committees made it through both chambers.

The list of health-related bills passed this year includes SB 21, which would facilitate reciprocal occupational licenses for military spouses, and SB 70, which aims to improve access to overdose reversal drugs. The legislature is now in the midst of its first special session, focused on budget negotiations and the Permanent Fund dividend.

2. Thank you to our Convening Panel

We host the 2021 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference this year on September 14th. Yesterday, however, we kicked off our Convening Panel process, which gathers input from some of Alaska’s most thoughtful health care and health policy leaders. Their input helps us shape the Topical Agenda and identify some of the speakers we’ll want to have ready for you in September.

So, if you have any topics, speakers, or content ideas, we would love to hear them. I’ll incorporate the feedback into our team’s discussions as we build this year’s agenda. And, if you already know you want to be with us on the 14th, be sure to register while early bird rates are still in place!


3. Alaska sees 165% spike in opioid overdoses

Last week DHSS announced Alaska had experienced a 165% spike in overdose deaths in 2020, with the numbers continuing to surge into this year. According to Elana Habib with the department’s Office of Substance Misuse and Addiction Prevention, the weekly average number of overdoses since March is nearly triple the averages seen in 2019 and 2020.

She also noted that earlier this month, Alaska saw one of the worst weekly overdose spikes in recent years, primarily in the Anchorage area, the Southeast region, and the Gulf Coast region. The department is working with stakeholders across the state to try to determine if these spikes are related to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.


4. Predictions for federal health policy agenda

President Biden’s health policy agenda got off to a quick start but may slow in the coming months. In this piece, State of Reform columnist Jim Capretta outlines the high-profile health reforms that Democrats are discussing for possible inclusion in the infrastructure or family support bills that Biden has teed up. The list includes efforts to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60, include dental and vision coverage under Medicare, and the creation of a public option.

Capretta also has a column out detailing the Biden administration’s reversals of three Trump-era Medicaid decisions, which he says “signal a wholesale change in direction is now underway.” He highlights what these decisions mean for the future of work requirements, block grants, and state waivers.


5. DHSS website still down

The DHSS website is still shut down following a malware cyberattack last Monday and will remain offline while the investigation into the attack continues. In a statement, DHSS said, “There are no details about who initiated the attack, why they targeted DHSS, whether this attack is related to any other recent attacks, or how long the website may be down.”

This malware attack comes on the heels of multiple cyberattacks targeting the health care sector including a ransomware attack on Scripps Health. A Check Point report released this month finds a 102% global increase in ransomware attacks this year with health care being, by far, the most targeted sector. The health care sector is currently seeing an average of 109 attack attempts per organization every week. The utilities sector is the next highest at 59 attack attempts per organization per week.