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Alaska Legislature

Juneau wrap-up, part 1: Lawmakers force hospitals, doctors to publish prices

The Alaska Capitol gets some early-morning sunshine in March. (Nathaniel Herz / ADN)

The Alaska Legislature passed dozens of bills in its final week in Juneau — including more than 20 on its last day alone.

The barrage of votes ran for more than 10 hours in both the House and Senate, making it difficult to keep track.

Now that the dust has settled on the session, we're looking back at some of the last-minute legislation you may have missed. Over the course of the week, we'll examine bills that could affect Alaskans' day-to-day lives — where they smoke and drink, when they go to the doctor and how they pay for clean energy upgrades like solar panels.

We'll start with House Bill 123, which will require doctors and hospitals to post prices for their most commonly performed medical procedures.

Next, we'll cover legislation to ban smoking inside bars and other businesses around the state.

On Wednesday, we'll describe a bill that fixed a legal problem threatening to hinder the operations of Alaska's craft distilleries. On Thursday, we'll cover a bill tightening a popular credit that allows corporations a generous tax write-off in exchange for donations to schools.

On Friday, we'll describe legislation to help customers of Alaska utilities borrow money for energy upgrades — like solar panels and natural gas heating equipment — and pay it back on their monthly bills.

One caveat: None of these bills have been signed by Gov. Bill Walker. But he has not publicly indicated opposition to any of them.

Three Fairbanks members of the Alaska House peruse documents during a break on the last day of the legislative session May 12. (Nathaniel Herz / ADN)

Both the House and Senate, on the last day of the legislative session, voted on the health care cost disclosure legislation, which was sponsored by Anchorage Democratic Rep. Ivy Spohnholz.

The legislation requires doctors and hospitals to post undiscounted prices of their 10 most commonly-performed procedures from six different sections of a medical code, for a total of 60.

It also requires doctors, hospitals and insurers to give a "good faith estimate," within 10 days, of the costs of non-emergency care, if a patient asks. That provision is modeled on an Anchorage ordinance that took effect last year.

The legislation also calls for the state health department to collect the lists posted by doctors and hospitals, and to post the information on the department's website.

The bill faced skepticism from some providers, who said that posting the prices online would leave little room for dialogue with patients and could also mislead them, since they wouldn't reflect discounts that patients' insurers might have negotiated.

Spohnholz's legislation passed the House in a 34-6 vote last year; it advanced through two Senate committees and was awaiting a vote on the session's last day.

It finally passed after Spohnholz amended her entire proposal into a separate piece of legislation, Senate Bill 105, that previously addressed licensing, supervision and billing practices of therapists that work with married couples and families.

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