Alaska House, Senate pass series of health-related bills

With the 2022 legislative session scheduled to end next week, the Alaska House and Senate recently passed several bills related to health care.

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The House passed legislation that would address dementia awareness, patient access to vaccines, people experiencing a mental health crisis, and access to telehealth services. The Senate passed bills that would address home care for the elderly and adults with disabilities, and student access to mental health education.

Bills passed by the House include:

HB 308 passed in the House on May 5th. HB 308 would create a dementia awareness program within the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). It would include a plan for outreach efforts and require DHSS to maintain a list of state providers who diagnose, evaluate, and manage dementia. DHSS would be required to educate the public on ways to minimize the risk of Alaskans developing dementia by promoting the importance of wellness checkups.

HB 145 passed in the House on May 11th. HB 145 increases patient access to vaccines and ensures Alaska’s pharmacists are reimbursed when providing services. The bill allows pharmacist technicians to administer vaccines when under the direct supervision of licensed pharmacists. It also updates the current provider anti-discrimination statute to support insurance coverage for patient care services provided by a pharmacist. Pharmacists are one of few health care professionals not currently listed in the statute.

HB 265 passed in the House on May 3rd. HB 265 increases access to telehealth services. Alaska’s telehealth statutes were relaxed during the COVID-19 pandemic to improve access to behavioral health services, but regulatory suspensions were not permanent. HB 265 reinforces telehealth service access and expands Medicaid coverage of those services. It removes a current requirement for an in-person visit with a health care professional prior to treatment. It also allows patients to have follow-up telehealth visits from physicians who are licensed in another state, but have established a relationship with the patient and conducted an in-person physical examination with the patient.

HB 172 passed in the House on May 11th. HB 172 clarifies the process for treating people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. It allows for the admission of a person experiencing a crisis to a stabilization center for up to 23 hours and 59 minutes. It also requires a mental health professional to examine the patient within three hours of their arrival to the facility. The patient’s stay at the facility would include evaluation, stabilization, and treatment.

Bills passed by the Senate include:

SB 98 passed in the Senate on April 29th. SB 98 aims to offer elderly Alaskans and adults with disabilities who are enrolled in Medicaid home and community-based services a new program called Adult Home Care. Under SB 98, DHSS will streamline a process for foster parents who have cared for foster children with disabilities to acquire a new adult home care license. They would then be able to provide services for elderly Alaskans and adults with disabilities, allowing them to live at home and receive personal care services. 

SB 80 passed in the Senate on April 26th. SB 80 would amend the existing health education curriculum statute to include mental health curriculum in all kindergarten through 12th grade health classrooms. The bill aims to educate students on information pertaining to mental health symptoms, resources, and treatment. If SB 80 becomes law, the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development will develop guidelines for instruction in mental health, with consultation from DHSS, along with representatives from national, state, and regional tribal mental health organizations.