More insurance coverage may be coming

Bills boosting diabetes, cancer coverage advance

Posted: Sunday, April 02, 2000

Bills requiring insurance companies to cover diabetes treatment and early prostate cancer tests are a step closer to becoming law. Both passed the state House of Representatives this week.

House Bill 298, sponsored by Anchorage Republican Rep. Lisa Murkowski, requires insurers to pay for diabetes medication, supplies, equipment and education.

It passed 34-4 on Friday, with Juneau Reps. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, and Bill Hudson, a Republican, voting in favor of it.

Having adequate insurance coverage will help people control the disease, Murkowski said. That will prevent expensive emergency room visits and hospital stays, and stave off devastating long-term effects such as blindness, kidney disease and nerve damage.

``There's a point where we all recognize that it makes good sound fiscal sense to deal with it up front, so you don't have the long-range costs at the end,'' she said.

Rep. Norm Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican and early skeptic of the bill, said most insurance companies writing policies in Alaska already cover diabetes, which lessens his concern the bill might increase premiums. A $1,500 annual cap on the amount that must be paid for education also made it more palatable, he said.

Rep. Scott Ogan, a Palmer Republican, was among the four votes against the diabetes bill. Mandating insurance companies to cover screening, such as mammograms and prostate exams, is one thing, but mandating treatment is starting down a ``slippery slope,'' he said.

``Why doesn't the government just go into the insurance business since we're going to force the insurance industry to cover all this stuff and not pay for it?'' he asked.

A Senate version of the diabetes coverage bill has moved through most of its committees and is currently in the Rules Committee, which schedules bills for Senate action.

House Bill 416, sponsored by the House Health Education and Social Services Committee, requires insurers to pay for prostate cancer screening at age 35 for men at high risk and at age 40 for all men. Currently insurers are required to pay for the screening at age 50 for most men and age 40 for those at high risk.

That bill passed the House unanimously.

Juneau resident Mike Miller has been a primary lobbyist for the prostate cancer screening bill.

Miller, who is himself battling prostate cancer, said at an earlier hearing that screening at a younger age might have caught his disease at a stage when it would have been much easier to treat.

``HB 416 will help men be diagnosed at an earlier age, saving both lives and money,'' he said.

That bill is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

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