Telehealth and nursing bills added to Alaska special session

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy added a few pieces of legislation to the Alaska special session on Sept. 2. Senate Bill 3006, Senate Bill 67, and House Bill 83 represent Dunleavy’s attempts to help ease the burdens that Alaska’s hospitals are under due to COVID-19. 

 

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According to a press release from the governor’s office, SB3006 will “expand the use of telemedicine and telehealth services and provide additional tools to expand our health care workforce, and enhance capacity within the state’s healthcare system.” 

SB3006, which was read and referred to the Labor and Commerce Committee on Sept. 2, will make changes to Alaska laws regarding telehealth services. In Gov. Dunleavy’s transfer letter to Senate President Peter Micciche, he wrote that SB3006 “provides for the use of telemedicine and telehealth until July 1, 2022.” 

According to the text of SB3006, both AS 08.64.170 and AS 08.68.160 will not apply to health care providers who are providing treatment, rendering a diagnosis, or prescribing medication through telehealth without an initial physical examination upon three conditions [stated below]. 

Statute AS 08.64.170 states that a health care provider may not “practice medicine, podiatry, or osteopathy in the state unless the person is licensed or is a supervised physician’s assistant.” 

In addition, Statute AS 08.68.160 states that “A person practicing or offering to practice registered, advanced practice registered, or practical nursing in the state shall submit evidence of qualification to practice and shall be licensed under this chapter.” 

SB3006 aims to waive these restrictions for health care providers so that they can treat their patients in a more timely manner without having to deal with requirements such as submitting proof of qualifications

The three conditions, as mentioned above, are that health care providers must be licensed to provide services in another state, only do work within the scope of what they’re authorized to do, and offer to refer the patient to someone else should they be unauthorized to provide treatment. 

During a special session hearing on Sept. 7 with the Alaska Labor and Commerce Committee, health officials expressed the need for extended telehealth use. Alexis Apple, a policy associate with the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), spoke in support of SB3006, saying, “Patients should have the option of telemedicine health.”

Sen. Mia Costello asked if ATA had received any pushback from licensed in-state providers. 

Apple replied: 

“We haven’t really received negative feedback from practitioners in the state, just from hospitals that are trying to control the competition [where staff are utilized].”

Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, also expressed his support for the bill. 

“Healthcare staffing is extraordinarily strained, and our staff is exhausted.”

SB67 and HB83, bills introduced on Feb. 3 and Feb. 18, respectively, are aimed at easing the licensing process for nurses.                                                       

In a referral letter to Micciche, Dunleavy stated that the bills would “strengthen the state’s health care delivery system by reducing barriers to licensure for registered and licensed practical nurses.” 

Both bills would allow Alaska to adopt the Multistate Nurse Licensure Compact. This action would permit registered nurses in any of the 34 participating states to practice in the state without having to deal with a time-consuming licensing process. These bills would also provide nurses in Alaska a license to practice in any of the other states, too. 

No hearings have been scheduled for SB67 and HB83. 

This new legislation comes as many doubt the health policy priorities of the Alaska governor. In an op-ed piece for the Anchorage Daily News, Dan Winkelman compared the governor’s actions to turning off a faucet and unclogging a sink.

“Gov. Mike Dunleavy is helping to unclog the sink by assisting hospitals with hiring more staff and taking other steps to increase the number of people to treat COVID-19 patients. Now, the governor must turn the faucet off by encouraging universal masking when in indoor public places and encouraging safe vaccination.”