A bill advanced out of the Alaska Senate this past week would expand access to telehealth throughout the state, but would also prohibit businesses, state agencies and local governments from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination to access public areas.
The state House of Representatives voted on Sunday to send the bill back to the House Rules Committee. Its revised bill must eventually be approved by the Senate.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, the original bill only concerned COVID-19-related temporary changes to telehealth and background check policies.
However, senators then introduced three amendments aimed at allowing residents to avoid COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
WHY IT MATTERS
The telehealth-related portion of SB 3006, which was introduced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy earlier this month, would temporarily allow some clinicians to write prescriptions without first conducting an in-person exam.
“The amount charged by a healthcare provider for services provided under this section must be reasonable and consistent with the ordinary fees typically charged for that service and may not be more than the ordinary fees typically charged for that service,” read the bill.
The legislation would also allow hospitals or nursing facilities to temporarily hire people without obtaining a background check, under some circumstances.
After the addition of the amendments, the bill advanced out of the Senate with a 13-3 vote on Friday, with a few senators who voted yes saying they believed the state House of Representatives will remove many of the vaccine-related elements before passing it.
The first of those would require anyone who requires proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to accept a positive antibody test or a positive COVID-19 test. (The amendment did not specify it, but it is presumed that the person should no longer be contagious after a positive COVID-19 result.)
The second amendment says a person can object to the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine on religious, medical or philosophical grounds.
The third bans businesses, state agencies and local governments from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination “to access an area or service that is open to the public,” according to the Anchorage Daily News‘ James Brooks.
According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Coronavirus Response Hub, 56.5% of state residents over the age of 12 are vaccinated. Currently, about 80% of the state’s ICU beds are occupied, with COVID-19-hospitalized patients at a reported all-time high. As of Sunday, the state had 277 new confirmed COVID-19 cases.
THE LARGER TREND
Dozens of states have enacted changes to telemedicine laws during the pandemic, with some relying on governors to do make rules via executive orders and legislators in others passing more permanent policies. These laws, with a few notable exceptions, expand access to virtual care in various capacities.
It’s less common, however, for the legislation to include provisions concerning COVID-19 vaccine mandates – although, perhaps, with President Joe Biden’s recent announcement to that effect, more may be on the horizon.
ON THE RECORD
“I guess I believe people will do the right thing if you ask them,” said Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, to Brooks. Revak voted yes on the amended version of the bill.
Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.