In 2020, Alaska temporarily allowed some health care practitioners with out-of-state licenses to provide telehealth services to Alaskans in response to the COVID-19 crisis. As the pandemic has continued through 2021, stressing hospital and healthcare professional capacities, reinstating this policy has been discussed. Most recently, the legislature has been debating bills which would create another temporary window permitting these services. Alaska Policy Forum applauds these steps forward and encourages policymakers to permanently modify this policy.
Granting Alaska licenses to licensed medical practitioners in good standing from other states would expand Alaskans’ access to health care and improve the lives of many. All Alaskans, including those in rural areas with limited providers and facilities, the homebound elderly, and the immunocompromised, should have timely access to the health care provider of their choosing. Expanding telehealth licensing gives Alaskans access to more specialists, frees up on-the-ground staff and facilities to care for the sickest patients, and decreases health care costs.
Increasing Alaskans’ access to medical providers via telehealth is clearly needed as the state continues the ongoing battle against COVID-19. It is also necessary for the long-term sustainability of Alaska’s healthcare infrastructure. Currently, many Alaskans have to travel across the state or even out-of-state to receive the care they need. This is costly, takes time, and can harm those who are already sick. Other states, such as Arizona and West Virginia, have implemented legislation allowing licensed, out-of-state health care professionals in good standing to provide telehealth to their residents. Alaskans deserve timely, affordable health care even when a pandemic is not occurring, and permanently expanding telehealth licensing is the next step for Alaska policymakers to take.