Health bills to watch in Alaska’s 2020 legislative session

A handful of new health-related bills have been referred to the House and Senate health committees during the first few weeks of Alaska’s 2020 legislative session. While there are several health bills carried over from the 2019 session still in committee, we’ve compiled a list of some of the newly-filed pieces of legislation we’ll be watching as the session progresses.

 

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Interstate Nursing Compact:

Two bills requested by Governor Mike Dunleavy, HB 238 and SB 179, seek to add Alaska to the interstate nursing compact. The compact allows nurses to continue practicing when moving between participating states, as long as they meet uniform licensing requirements. 

In the governor’s transmittal letter on Feb. 4, Dunleavy wrote, 

“[The bill] would strengthen the state’s healthcare delivery system by reducing barriers to licensure for registered and licensed practical nurses and by increasing opportunities for nurses from other states to practice in the state.

The Multistate Nurse Licensure Compact would allow registered and practical nurses in any of the almost three dozen participating states to practice in Alaska without having to go through a fairly duplicative and sometimes time-consuming licensing process.”

 

Mental Health:

In a recent Q&A with State of Reform, Representative Matt Claman’s discussed HB 181, a bill that would require existing health education requirements to include a mental health curriculum in K-12 classrooms in Alaska. The health guidelines for the education program would be developed in consultation with DHSS and representatives from state and national mental health organizations.  

The idea for this bill is to make sure that mental health education becomes part of the curriculum. First and foremost, we are seeing more and more people with mental health challenges and by adding that to the public health curriculum in schools we are acknowledging that these are real medical issues and not something to be ashamed of,” said Claman. 

 

Price Transparency:

SB 135, a bill prefiled at the start of January, would add a new section to Alaska’s health care price transparency law. One new subsection would require providers to provide uninsured patients who make requests under the transparency law with information on available financial assistance, and direct them to websites that have information on standard charges.

The bill also adds a new section requiring health care insurers to establish an online tool that allows covered individuals to compare prices of services among health care providers. The bill also requires insurers to establish a program that incentivizes covered individuals to choose services from a provider that charges less than the average price paid by the insurer for a given service. The incentive would take the form of a cash payment calculated as a percentage of the difference in price. 

 

Medicaid funding:

Gov. Dunleavy also released his 2020 supplemental budget legislation (SB 174/HB 234) this week, which would also have a large impact on health in the state. 

As it currently stands, the $507.9 million budget includes the addition of $128 million in state funds for Medicaid services, $1 million in state funds for the Pioneer Home Payment Assistance Program, and $6 million in state funds to achieve full capacity at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. 

HB 234 is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 14th in the House Finance Committee.