A big thank you to our Convening Panel members who recently came together to discuss the issues, speakers, and topics that will form the agenda for the 2022 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference. We’re getting close to finalizing our Topical Agenda, which we will release in just a few weeks!
In this edition of “5 Things We’re Watching,” we have a Q&A on housing challenges in Alaska, we feature the DOH’s recently released health information exchange RFP, and highlight health disparities facing Black Alaskans.
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State of Reform
1. DOH releases HIE RFP
The Alaska Department of Health recently issued a request for proposals for statewide health information exchange services. The RFP specifically notes that “the State is seeking a contractor to provide quality HIE services using a secure and modern technical solution that is well managed to achieve optimal outcomes.” HIE services include care coordination information services, admission/discharge/transfer notifications and alert services, provider portal services, and bidirectional EHR services.
The state estimates a total budget of $6 million for the HIE’s first two years of operation, and approval of a contract will be contingent upon legislative appropriation and/or the availability of federal funding. Proposals are due by 2pm Alaska Time on August 15th, 2022, with notice of awards expected at the end of November.
2. Q&A: John Weaver discusses efforts to help Alaskans with housing needs
John Weaver is the CEO of Valley Residential Services, which works to provide quality, affordable housing for Alaska residents through programs aimed at single households, families, seniors, and those who experience disabilities. Under his leadership, VRS has overseen the construction of housing units to help approximately 2,000 Alaskans settle into stable housing. In this Q&A, Weaver discusses the projects VRS is currently working on and highlights housing needs across the state.
Weaver says housing is just one element of what VRS does—they’re also focused on partnering with organizations that provide support services. “The theory is that healthy living begins with a safe environment and the security of knowing they have a home to go to each night,” Weaver says. “Giving them the confidence in having a safe, clean housing environment to go to relieves a lot of stress from their life.”
3. New report details health needs of Black Alaskans
A new report commissioned by the Alaska Black Caucus identifies health challenges facing Black Alaskans and outlines recommendations to address disparities and improve health outcomes. The report, which was funded through a grant from the Municipality of Anchorage Health Department, says this is the first Community Health Needs Assessment for Black Alaskans.
Among several data points, the assessment found differences in causes of death based on race. For example, suicide is not among the leading causes of death for Black Alaskans, but it is in the top 10 for white, AI/AN, and AAPI populations. Homicide, however, was in the top 10 for Black Alaskans, but not a top cause of death in any other group. Full details on the report, with comments from ABC President and CEO Celeste Hodge Growden, are available here.
4. Follow-up care more likely for children referred to specialists via telemedicine
A recent study focused on school-based hearing screenings in rural Alaska found that children who were referred to specialists via telemedicine were more than twice as likely to receive follow-up care compared to children who were referred to primary care providers. Follow-up care also happened over 17 times faster for those referred via telehealth.
Dr. Susan Emmett, who co-led the research, says the purpose of the study was to examine whether telemedicine can help address some of the barriers rural children face in trying to access care. She says the findings can apply to additional services. “One of the most exciting aspects of this project is that the model of specialty telehealth referral is applicable not just to hearing, but also to other preventive health services in the school setting, such as vision screening and evaluations for developmental disabilities and behavioral health.”
5. Over 1 in 5 HealthCare.gov in-network claims denied in Alaska
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that 18% of claims submitted for in-network services in the US were denied by HealthCare.gov marketplace insurers during the 2020 plan year. In Alaska, that denial rate was even higher at 22%.
According to the analysis, national denial rates for in-network claims ranged from 1% to 80%. About 10% of denials were due to lack of prior authorization or referral, 16% were for excluded services, and 72% were for “all other reasons.” KFF’s evaluation also notes that consumers rarely appeal denied claims, stating: “Of the more than 42 million denied in-network claims in 2020, marketplace enrollees appealed fewer than 61,000 – an appeal rate of about one-tenth of one percent.”