A plan to continue coverage of breast and cervical cancer treatments for low-income women unanimously passed out of the state House of Representatives on Friday.
The bill removes a sunset on the federal program, which started in 2001, and which provides for 70 percent funding from the federal government and 30 percent from the state. The program was set to expire in June because of a sunset clause placed by the Legislature.
Senate Bill 78 by Sen. Lyda Green, a Wasilla Republican, had been scheduled for a floor vote in the House on Monday but was sent back to the House Rules Committee for amendments at the request of Democrats.
Green's bill would allow the state to charge small copayments for the treatment. Federal law prevents the state from charging for the treatment, but if federal law changes or the state is given a special waiver, the copayment clause would take effect.
Cost-sharing limits in Alaska are $2 for prescriptions, $3 for doctor visits and $50 a day for hospitalization.
An amendment added to the bill by Rep. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican, clarified that recipients of the coverage would not have to make copayments unless federal law changes.
Democratic versions of the measure filed in the House and Senate at the start of the session would have continued the program without any additional charges.
Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, an Anchorage Republican who filed a bill similar to Green's, said she is certain that federal law will change to allow for copayments.
"The provisions are in place so that when federal law does change we will be ready to go with it," Dahlstrom said. "But this bill did extend the sunset clause also that was in place, and coverage would have ended on June 30, so I'm very pleased that that's been removed."
Dahlstrom said she expects the state to seek a waiver from the federal government to allow for copayments.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat who filed a bill to extend the program without stipulation, praised the amended version but questioned whether Alaska would be allowed to charge copayments.
The amendment "is significant and the reason that it's significant is because before the bill didn't say that. It just said the state is going to impose cost-sharing on women, which we can't do under federal law. We particularly can't do it because you can't just pick one category of people who are ill," Kerttula said.
The bill now goes to a House and Senate conference committee for additional changes and then on to the governor's office for final approval.
Ninety-four women in Alaska have been treated under the program since 2001 at a total cost of about $1.1 million. The state has paid about $330,000 of that, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.
About 44 women are enrolled in the program now.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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