Association News

President's Column 

excerpt from October 2019 Heartbeat


Myths, reality, and how ASMA is fighting for you


In the August Heartbeat, I encouraged all physicians to not only join their Alaska State Medical Association, but become more active participants in ASMA. In this column I want to update you on what ASMA has been doing for you in 2019 and suggest ways for you to be more active in your state medical association.

However, before I continue, I want to clarify some possible misconceptions about this organization. ASMA is not part of the American Medical Association. You are not required to be a member of the AMA to be part of ASMA. We are sometimes asked by the AMA to sign on to some of its public policy initiatives. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. We work to improve the health care of all Alaskans and for Alaska’s physicians and physician assistants, not for the AMA. Membership in ASMA does not imply approval (or disapproval) of the AMA’s political or public policy; we are an independent medical association.

Another myth I have heard propagated is that ASMA is run by and for primary care physicians only and only is concerned about issues related to primary care. The truth is the association’s Board of Trustees and House of Delegates are composed of many specialists, along with primary care physicians.

I actually became more involved in ASMA after I complained to the organization about what I felt was a lack of support for specialists who were under a continued media barrage of negative public forums and articles.

I learned two things: ASMA’s silence was based on lack of involvement by specialists rather than lack of concern, and be careful what you complain about! Many articles were subsequently authored in social media and the Anchorage Daily News, launching ASMA’s medical “truth-in-advertising” campaign over the past 24 months. I fully expect attacks on Alaska physicians to resume in the media over the next few months, as the legislative session resumes and we again become one of the targets for further budget cuts.

ASMA has been active in 2019 working for you.

This organization successfully fought to convince state officials to exempt physicians from an arbitrarily imposed “72-hour” rule prohibiting payment for Medicaid patients if documentation for the provided service had not been substantively completed within three days.

ASMA was able to convince the state to exempt pediatricians from Medicaid rate cuts. We were not successful protecting all of our physicians from those cuts but will continue to inform all lawmakers of the potential repercussions and impact their sometimes-uninformed decisions have on the health of Alaskans.

Under Executive Director Mike Haugen’s guidance and visionary thinking, ASMA was able to start a leadership training program for physicians, with experts as the training faculty. The first eight physicians have been selected and the program will begin this winter. (See related article in this issue.) Aided by The Physicians Foundation, ASMA has partnered with an organization whose expertise is training physician leaders, and the cost to participants will be minimal.

The Alaska State Medical Association needs your involvement and membership to continue our momentum:

►Write an article for your local paper or social media to make sure the truth about the health care you are providing is told. ASMA has resources to help.

►Apply for the leadership program. Email or call (907) 562-0304 for details.

►Inform your state legislators about issues in health care. More often than not, we are silent while a few self-proclaimed experts in state agencies or the Legislature author policies and laws that interfere with our ability to take care of our patients.

 Contact your congressman and U.S. senators, too.

►Attend ASMA’s annual meeting to make sure you stay informed and your voice is heard. The next one is scheduled for Saturday, May 2, 2020 at the Embassy Suites in Anchorage.

We can’t succeed without you.

Lawsuit over Medicaid rates is settled
10/03/2019 - 10:18am

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) and Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association (ASHNHA) have settled pending litigation related to cost containment regulations. The regulations sought to reduce Medicaid reimbursement rates for certain providers for fiscal year 2020.

The regulations were originally filed as emergency regulations that DHSS intended to make permanent. Emergency regulations can be adopted and implemented prior to any public notice and comment process, but can only become permanent if the process is followed. ASHNHA filed a lawsuit challenging both the emergency and permanent regulations. A preliminary order from the court indicated the judge was inclined to agree with ASHNHA on its challenge to the emergency regulations but not on the permanent regulations.

“I think this is a fair result for both parties,” DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum said. “Instead of spending more time in a courtroom, both sides sat down to see if there was a path forward. This settlement provides the process ASHNHA feels providers need while also recognizing the current finances of the state.”

“We appreciate the state’s good-faith efforts to resolve this lawsuit,” ASHNHA President/CEO Becky Hultberg said. “Because of the complexity of health care, it is important to ensure adequate public process when the state makes difficult decisions about health care coverage, access or reimbursement. This settlement recognizes the importance of that public process, while ultimately enacting the rate cut planned by the state.”

This settlement will allow Medicaid providers who were affected by the emergency regulations to request a settlement payment. Providers will be notified via the weekly remittance advice regarding how to request a settlement. This remittance advice will go out within five days of the court signing off on the settlement agreement.

This settlement relates only to the emergency regulations. DHSS will continue the process of making the regulations permanent as of Oct. 1, with an exception of Oct. 31 for mental health physician clinic services, at which point these cost-containment measures will be effective for the remainder for the fiscal year.

Neither party has made any admissions or concessions regarding their respective legal positions taken in the case, according to a news release from the state Department of Law. The settlement does not impact administrative rights to challenge permanent regulations. The settlement is a final resolution of the litigation and the court’s order approving the settlement will not be subject to appeal, according to the release.

The Anchorage Daily News quoted Hultberg as saying, “This lawsuit was about ensuring that as the state makes decisions about public services through the regulatory process, that the public and other stakeholders have an opportunity to weigh in. And I do want to note, the state has achieved its ultimate objective, which was to reduce rates.”

Click here to read the full text of the settlement and accompanying documents.




Keep up with current events and issues that relate to health care in Alaska.

Wanted: Alaska WWAMI Admissions Committee members
08/26/2019 - 8:53am

The Alaska WWAMI Admissions Committee is actively searching for new members who are available to interview medical school applicants in a collegial setting in Anchorage and interact with the other members of the committee to help nominate candidates for admission to Alaska's medical school. We have identified the following desirable qualities:

1. Availability for interviews for approximately two weeks each winter to interview prospective students. Only travel-associated expenses are reimbursed for this activity.

2. Willingness to become familiar with 20 to 30 applications – each is approximately 40 pages long and must be reviewed prior to the interviews.

3. Tech and computer savvy with access to high speed internet; all admissions work is conducted online and by e-mail.

4. Understanding of the unique challenges in providing medical care in our diverse state. We are especially interested in representing the broad spectrum of medical specialties and all areas of the state.

5. Understanding of Alaska's physician workforce needs.

6. Understanding and appreciation of the unique contributions and importance of Alaska's Native Peoples to healthcare in the state.

7. Willingness to serve for 6 years to provide continuity in Committee dealings.

If you have already submitted your name we would appreciate a confirmation of your continued interest. Others interested in helping to identify the next generation of physicians for Alaska, please send a short statement explaining your interest (≤ 1 page) and a brief CV to:

Alaska WWAMI School of Medical Education

University of Alaska Anchorage

3211 Providence Dr., HSB 301

Anchorage, AK 99508

Attn: Maryann Kniffen