5 Things Alaska: Health policy review, Pfizer vaccine, 10-year economic report

What an election season it has been in Alaska… We’re going to leave most of that aside, even though we think it’s the most important topic to watch in Alaska health care for this month, and focus on some key takeaways we heard at our recent conference. We also try to put the recent trend of COVID in Alaska in some context. It’s not a great trend, but it’s not as bad as it could be…

So, be sure to have a plan to vote so that you don’t get caught off guard and miss the opportunity to exercise your franchise in our republican democracy.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Health policy preview for 2021

Over the course of two separate breakout sessions during the State of Reform Conference, seven legislators offered their observations on the health care and fiscal policy teed up for Alaska’s 2021 legislative session. There was bipartisan agreement among the legislators that work on the budget – specifically related to Medicaid – will be a top priority. But there was variation in the other priorities at the top of their respective to do lists.

The Democratic leadership panel highlighted behavioral health, transparency, tribal health, and ACES. Legislators on the Republican leadership panel said cost of care, telehealth, and increasing competition in Alaska will be top of mind.

2. Leadership Series on COVID vaccine

Last week State of Reform had the opportunity to speak with David Hering, Pfizer’s North American Regional President for Vaccines, as part of our virtual “Leadership Series.” During the one-on-one conversation, I spoke with Hering about Pfizer’s work in developing a COVID-19 vaccine and what the road ahead looks like.

In the video interview, Hering says vaccine developers are on the cusp of a real leap in science, particularly as it relates to the mRNA model vaccines being developed by Pfizer and others. “The ability to basically tell your own cells to…provide antibodies for these diseases instead of having to put the actual virus, you know attenuated or other ways, into the bloodstream is a really fantastic advancement and one that should have broad applicability,” says Hering.


3. Health care expected to lead Alaska’s job growth

Alaska can expect to add 18,000 jobs (5.5% growth) from 2018 to 2028, according to the latest edition of Alaska Economic Trends Magazine. The health care/social assistance industry is projected to lead the state in job growth with over 5,000 additional jobs expected in this field (10.3% growth).

Of the over 5,000 new jobs, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development projects nearly 2,000 will be related to ambulatory health care services and about 1,000 will be related to hospital jobs. In terms of individual jobs, home health aides and nursing assistants are projected to add 427 jobs by 2028. The Department expects 1,294 new health care practitioner jobs including 404 new registered nursing jobs.


4. COVID-19 in context

A recent study from Evergreen Economics finds Alaska has fared better than other large, predominately rural states during the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to six “peer states,” Alaska outperformed all in terms of hospitalization and death rates, with only Wyoming experiencing a lower case rate. The study estimates hospitalizations would have been three times higher if Alaska’s rates were similar to the peer-states, and four times higher if rates were similar to the US average. Over 200 residents would have died in the peer-state scenario and almost 500 would have died in the US scenario, reads the report.

However, this positive news comes amidst surges in COVID cases in the state, with worrying upticks in rural areas. “With most regions in Alaska now at the high alert level, or red zone, for the 14-day daily case average, we all must step up our prevention efforts,” said Dr. Anne Zink in a statement. “Let’s protect vulnerable groups and continue to keep our hospitalizations and deaths low.”

5. The outlook for mental health in Alaska

Four experts on mental health spoke about the challenges Alaskans may face in the coming months as a result of COVID-19 during our “Mental health and the pandemic” panel at the State of Reform conference. Sarah Alquist, Vice President at Beacon Health Options, says it will be critical to have infrastructure in place to support the expected rise in individuals facing long-term stress disorders, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

“We should be concerned,” says Steve Williams, COO of Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. “We know that the stressors of an economy, the stressors of the virus that we are experiencing, the stressors that are put on families who have to educate their children at home has impacts on jobs and employment all are risk factors for increased mental health issues.” The speakers highlighted a recent CDC report which indicates 25.5% of young adults have seriously considered suicide, and the prevalence of depressive disorder is four times higher than it was in 2019.