Alaska Legislature

The Alaska House is struggling to advance a telehealth bill intended to fight the COVID pandemic

JUNEAU — A telehealth bill written by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to fight the COVID-19 pandemic took a step backward Sunday night as members of the Alaska House voted to send it back to committee rather than advance it toward a final vote.

The decision endangers the bill’s prospects. Lawmakers are working in a special session that ends at midnight Tuesday. Unless the bill passes by that deadline, it will expire.

As originally written by the Dunleavy administration, the bill was a telehealth measure that would temporarily allow medical workers to meet patients online and write prescriptions without an in-person exam. Another section of the bill temporarily waives a state-mandated background check for newly hired medical workers.

The state Senate amended it, allowing Alaskans to opt out of vaccination mandates, but a House committee removed those provisions.

On Sunday night, the House added an amendment that would require hospitals to admit a “support person” if the patient requests it.

The amendment, intended to prevent patients from dying alone, would require hospitals to change anti-pandemic policies that have blocked visitors.

“Half of the chamber now believes this bill is actually detrimental,” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, after the amendment passed.

Rather than continue voting on other amendments, members of the House voted to send the bill to the House Rules Committee to allow further negotiations.

The House is expected to reconvene Monday morning.


Sponsored