By Lawrence D. Weiss
For Senior Voice 

AlaskaCare expands benefits during pandemic emergency


April 1, 2020

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a “pandemic” – the worldwide spread of a new disease. That same day Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a declaration of public health disaster emergency in response to the anticipated outbreak of COVID-19 (the disease caused by a particular coronavirus). Two days later President Trump declared a national emergency.

Our daily lives are likely to change rather dramatically in the coming months. This is especially true for older persons who are hit harder by COVID-19 than younger age groups. The following figures recently came out of a study done in China, where the disease has already affected tens of thousands of people. These figures are among the best available to date (mid-March), but due to the way the data are collected, they may appear more serious than the actual situation. In any case, the data indicate that persons aged 60 to 69 who contract COVID-19 have a 3.9% mortality rate; 70 to 79 an 8% mortality rate, and 80 years of age and older a 15% mortality rate. Older people with certain underlying medical conditions such as heart and lung conditions are at even higher risk.

There is currently no vaccination against COVID-19, and there is no effective medication to fight it. As a result, prevention is the single most effective measure to counter it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that older persons and persons with underlying medical conditions stock up on supplies and practice a number of “social distancing” strategies:

- Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.

- When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.

- Avoid crowds as much as possible.

- Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.

- During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.

New AlaskaCare benefits to meet the challenge

Here in Alaska, the commissioner of the Department of Administration directed the Division of Retirement and Benefits to lift “restrictions on early medication refills. Members may obtain an additional 90-day supply of valid prescriptions.” A number of major health insurers have adopted a similar temporary policy. Stockpiling your medications means that you will have them in the event of a supply disruption, and that you do not have to visit the pharmacy as often. Many health plans have mail-order pharmacies to help accomplish the same end.

AlaskaCare retiree health plan members now have temporary access to Teladoc general medical services with a $0 copay. This phone-in service is already available to AlaskaCare employee health plan members. Teladoc doctors can evaluate your risk for COVID-19 and help with next steps when necessary. Teladoc can also address other health care needs unrelated to COVID-19. Stay in your home and save a trip to the physician’s office. Call (855) TELADOC (835-2362), or visit

In addition, AlaskaCare employee and retiree health plans are waiving member cost share (e.g. deductible, co-insurance) for laboratory tests ordered to diagnose and treat COVID-19, related doctor visits, and annual seasonal flu shots given in pharmacies. For important details see: or call TDD: (907) 465-2805; Telephone: (907) 465-4460; Toll-Free: (800) 821-2251.

Feeling stressed out by all of this? Who wouldn’t! Aetna is providing support for AlaskaCare employee and retiree health plan members through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) during the COVID-19 public health event. EAP staff is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. To speak with a counselor contact AlaskaCare EAP at (855) 417-2493.

Trustworthy resources to learn more about coronavirus and COVID-19

The situation is emerging rapidly on local, national and international fronts, but there are excellent resources available to keep current of the constantly changing situation. Locally the State of Alaska has a “COVID-19 Homepage” at: with lots of good information. The Anchorage Daily News makes available all news about COVID-19 on its website at no charge:

Nationally the gold standard of information about the pandemic is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at: See in particular the featured section, “Older Adults and Medical information,” which contains a lot of helpful, practical information. Another excellent source of information is the National Institutes of Health special section, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” found at:

Take good care of yourself, stay informed and hold on tight. This will be a wild ride. In a few years the young’uns will want to hear all about it from you.

Author Bio

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.


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