Bills on the move, stalling in Juneau

The legislature has about a month left remaining in the current legislative session, assuming that no special sessions are called this year. We’re tracking the progress of several key health policy bills.

Work Requirements

Rep. Kopp’s bill to require DHSS to apply for a waiver to establish work requirements for the state Medicaid program has still not be scheduled for a hearing in the House Health & Social Services Committee. But, the bill has picked up a co-sponsor with Rep. Reinbold adding his support to the measure.

“The safety net programs of Alaska are there to catch people when they fall, but more importantly our programs should be a launching pad for independence, self-sufficiency, and a better quality of life for all participants,” said Rep. Kopp.

The Senate has introduced its own version of the bill, which has been heard and held in the Senate Health and Social Services Committee.

“Obviously, we need to exempt those who are unable to work due to advanced age or health limitations,” said Senate President Pete Kelly, the bill’s sponsor. “However, the opportunity to contribute to one’s community through work or volunteerism should not be denied to any Alaskan. The requirement for work is not a punishment; it’s a privilege.”

Telehealth

Rep. Spohnholz’s HB 358 is scheduled for a hearing in the HSS Committee later next week. The bill would require carriers to provide coverage for mental health benefits provided though telehealth. Providers would not be required to meet with the patient in-person.

The bill was heard and held in committee earlier this month. Rep. Spohnholz argues that the bill “will enhance access to health care services, primarily mental health and primary care, for Alaskans.”

Opioids

The House Finance Committee is scheduled to hear HB 268 next week after receiving the bill from the Health and Social Services Committee. The bill would require patients to be informed of the potential addictive dangers of opioids before they are prescribed.

“This bill recognizes a reality,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. “Since 1999, the number of opioid prescriptions have tripled. More Americans and Alaskans have been prescribed these often useful, but potentially dangerous drugs. House Bill 268 is a patient information bill. It requires prescribers to let patients know about the potentially addictive qualities of these drugs when they are prescribed, and that they can potentially lead to opioid abuse and addiction. Providers must also offer information about opioid use being a potential risk factor for future heroin addiction. Patients can then use this knowledge to help themselves and their family members guard against overuse and abuse when prescribed these medications.”

While DHSS would be required to prepare a short factual handout on the dangers of opioid addiction, prescribers would be able to provide the information to patients in their own words.

Medical Aid in Dying

House Bill 54 has also passed out of the Health and Human Services Committee and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. The bill would provide an end-of-life option for terminally ill adults, but it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

“Death is a natural part of life,” said Rep. Drummond. “Providing dignity, control and peace of mind during a patient’s final days with family and loved ones places a much greater focus on a person’s life than on the often painful and agonizing process of dying.”

The bill would establish several patient protections to prevent coercion, including:

  • The patient has been determined to be capable, as confirmed by two physicians
  • The patient has been determined to be suffering from a terminal disease, as confirmed by two physicians
  • The patient must make an oral and a written request
  • The patient has the ability to rescind the request

Emergency Medical Transportation Services

The Senate Health and Social Services Committee has received HB 176, which passed out of the House 30-0 with 10 excused votes.

The bill, which was introduced last session, would allow public EMS providers to access supplemental funding for emergency medical transportation of Medicaid patients. Currently EMS providers can incur as much as sixty percent in additional uncompensated costs when providing services to Medicaid beneficiaries.

The amount the provider receives from all sources, including the supplemental funding, would not be allowed to exceed the actual cost for providing emergency medical transportation services.