5 Things Alaska: 2022 health policy, Q&A w/ Rep. Geran Tarr, Job projections

We’re hosting several events in the coming weeks that I want to be sure are on your radar. In less than a month, we’ll host the 2022 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference. We will soon release our Detailed Agenda for this virtual event, which will include the full list of confirmed and invited speakers that we’ve curated for the conference.

Next week we’re also looking forward to hosting our “5 Slides: Overcoming vaccine hesitancy” virtual conversation. More on that below.

Thanks for reading!

Emily Boerger
State of Reform

 

1. Lawmakers prefile bills to limit vaccine mandates

Ahead of the 2022 legislative session—which kicked off Tuesday—lawmakers prefiled over 70 bills and joint resolutions. Many of the health-related bills deal with COVID-19, including several that seek to limit the creation and enforcement of vaccine mandates in the state.

These bills include SB 156, which would prohibit the use of “vaccine passports,” and HB 241, which would hold certain employers civilly liable if they encourage an employee to get a COVID vaccine and that employee suffers an adverse reaction. Other vaccine-related bills include HB 262, which would ban the state from helping the federal government enforce any nationwide vaccination requirements or travel restrictions based on vaccination status, and HB 238, which would prohibit businesses, employers, state agencies, and school districts from requiring vaccinations for individuals who object based on religious, medical, or philosophical grounds.

 

2. 5 Slides: Overcoming vaccine hesitancy

Early on, Alaska had one of the highest vaccination rates per capita in the country. The latest data from the CDC now shows Alaska in the bottom half of states in terms of vaccinations per 100K. Next week, we’re looking forward to hosting our “5 Slides: Overcoming vaccine hesitancy” conversation where three experts will discuss what we have learned about vaccine hesitancy in different communities across the state and how to best overcome this reluctance.

The virtual convening will take place on Tuesday, January 25, from 11:30 – 12:30pm AKST, and will bring together Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, M.D., Tracy Foo, M.D., vaccines medical director at Pfizer, and Elizabeth Ripley, CEO of the Mat-Su Health Foundation. This event is free to attend, but you have to register to join us.

 

3. Rep. Geran Tarr discusses 2022 priorities

Rep. Geran Tarr is focused on addressing the social determinants of health and finding ways to support upstream prevention efforts during the 2022 legislative session. In a conversation with State of Reform Reporter Aaron Kunkler, Tarr said addressing these issues will not only lead to better health outcomes for Alaskans, but it will also save state dollars.

“Right now, we are spending tremendous amounts of money on crisis intervention,” said Tarr. “We know through research and other efforts that prevention, early intervention, and education would all save state dollars.” She said she’s specifically focused on child abuse prevention, the mental health system, substance misuse, and updating the definition of consent.


4. Health care jobs projected to increase

Jobs in health care, construction, and federal employment are the only industries expected to end 2022 at or above their pre-COVID levels, according to this month’s Alaska Economic Trends. The report finds that health care jobs saw a 2.4% increase from 2020 to 2021—jumping from 38,200 jobs to 39,100 jobs.

Alaska Economic Trends predicts Alaska will add an additional 500 jobs (+1.3%) in this sector in 2022. The report states: “We forecast 500 new health care jobs this year through a combination of hospital job recovery and renewed growth in ambulatory health care, which is mostly practitioners’ offices.” It also notes that the health care industry will continue to face pandemic-related obstacles that might limit growth including burnout, high costs, and workforce shortages.


5. Projections indicate Omicron may have peaked

Last week, the state recorded over 15,300 cases of COVID—signaling a 38% increase compared to the previous week and a 259% increase compared to two weeks ago. The latest data indicates there are currently 38 available adult ICU beds and 254 adult non-ICU beds available in the state.

Despite the rise in cases, the latest projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation indicate the state may have already hit its peak of Omicron infections. The projections say that the state likely hit a high of 21,000 total Alaskans infected with the virus last week, and numbers could already be declining in a similar pattern seen in other states. At the same time, hospitalizations and deaths are expected to increase in the coming weeks.