Alaska Legislature Made Strides Against Cancer in 2024 Session

Statement from American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Government Relations Director Emily Nenon

June 17, 2024

JUNEAU, Alaska -- The passage of two bills late in the 2024 legislative session marks a significant step forward in easing the cancer burden in Alaska. 
Senate Bill 91 expanded access to telehealth services for those dealing with life-threatening conditions and diseases, like cancer. Senate Bill 134, meanwhile, eliminated costs to patients with state-regulated insurance plans for follow-up and supplemental breast cancer imaging tests. 

“With many competing priorities facing the legislature, ACS CAN is pleased to see access to health care improve with passage of the telehealth and breast imaging bills. We remain steadfast in the need for updated tobacco prevention policies to protect Alaska’s youth from lifetimes of addiction,” Alaska Government Relations Director Emily Nenon said.
The expanded coverage of telehealth services allows Alaskans with a suspected or diagnosed life-threatening condition, like cancer, to do complete visits via telehealth from a range of qualified health care providers including nurse practitioners, physician assistants and therapists; currently, such coverage is only required for telehealth visits with physicians. Greater access to telehealth services removes transportation and some cost hurdles to patients’ access to care while supporting the patient with maximum flexibility. 
“The telehealth bill builds upon the Alaska telehealth law passed two years ago. Multi-disciplinary care teams are the standard of care in the nation’s top cancer centers. Now, more Alaskans facing cancer will be able to access the full care team via telehealth, and much more of what that team can provide, without the burden of flying, often out of state, for every appointment.” 

Examples of the additional care that will be available with the new law are post-surgical check-up visits that may be done by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Specialized speech and occupational therapy, unique to particular cancer treatments, will also be able to be done virtually.
When it comes to breast cancer imaging, SB 134 addresses a common problem that can keep Alaskans from getting the additional breast cancer imaging they need. Screening mammograms are covered in full by insurance carriers, but follow-up tests needed after an abnormal mammogram can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars and force patients to delay care and make large out-of-pocket payments to confirm or rule out cancer. Patients at high risk for breast cancer who require additional imaging such as ultrasounds or MRIs face similar cost impediments. This leaves many unable to afford additional screenings and diagnostic tests needed for a clean bill of health or to identify cancer earlier, when it is easier and less costly to treat and has the best chance of survival. 
“As the breast imaging bill moved through the legislative process, we heard more and more stories about Alaskans refusing or delaying care due to financial barriers. Some saved for months to get the follow up imaging they needed to rule out cancer or detect it earlier. When it comes to cancer, delayed care is delayed cure. Passage of this bill will set the standard for more insurance plans in Alaska to help patients get the care they need when they need it,” Nenon said. 
Approximately 3,710 Alaskans will be diagnosed with cancer this year and 1,220 will die from the disease. For more information on how ACS CAN is advocating for cancer patients and survivors on the local, state and federal levels or to learn more about how to get involved, visit   

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