Alaska Senate passes bill requiring coverage of telehealth services

The Alaska Senate passed a bill on Tuesday aimed at increasing Alaska residents’ access to telehealth services.

The bill, HB 29, requires health care insurers that offer plans in the group or individual market to cover telehealth services. The bill also stipulates that the insurer may not require an initial in-person visit before payment is made for covered services.

 

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Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, the bill’s sponsor, originally introduced the legislation in 2019. It passed in the House last year and then moved its way through the Senate during the current legislative session.

Originally, language in the bill set an effective date of January 1, 2021. However, the threat of COVID-19 prompted senators to amend the legislation to make it effective immediately upon passage.

With this amendment, the bill will return to the House for a concurrence vote before it’s sent to the governor’s desk.

“Alaska is at the forefront of providing telehealth services in urban, rural, aging, and underserved communities across our state,” Representative Spohnholz said in a prepared statement. “These successes are, however, largely limited to people insured through Medicaid and the Tribal health system. HB29 brings the benefits of telehealth to people covered by private plans and increases Alaskans’ access to better, faster healthcare. Its passage is timely because telehealth is an important tool for responding to COVID-19 by ensuring access to care while minimizing possible transmission of a virus.”

Update: Gov. Dunleavy signed House Bill 29 into law on March 16, 2020. As of March 18, there are 6 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alaska.