Alaska addresses rural vet shortage

Out-of-state veterinarians won’t be allowed to practice veterinary medicine free-of-charge in rural areas of Alaska after proposed legislation failed to pass committee in the Alaska State Legislature.

The legislation represented the growing push in recent years to get medical care for animals and humans alike out in the rural Bush areas of Alaska.

According to the bill sponsors, there were 350 veterinarians in Alaska as of Dec. 22, 2011. This number, sponsors say, is inadequate to handle the number of animals that Alaskans work with and keep in their homes.

"As with many issues of health, there are numbers of Alaskans who rely on their animals and cannot always afford to send an animal for care or pay the overhead costs naturally included in services provided by veterinarians with established brick and mortar clinics," sponsors Rep. Alan Dick and Rep. Reggie Joule wrote. "Veterinarians provide a wide swath of services to animals and their owners and companions. From cancer to diabetes, eating disorders to wounds and infections, veterinarians see all manner of health care issues."

The legislation, House Bill 251, stalled after moving to committee.

The bill’s sponsors presented the legislation as an opportunity to give rural Alaskans a choice for veterinary care.

"They can find veterinarians who are willing to come to their communities and provide badly needed services without worrying that providing a cup of tea and a gym floor to sleep on will run afoul of the States oversight," sponsors wrote.

The legislation would have allowed anyone licensed by another state or country to practice veterinary medicine in Alaska. Under the proposed amendment, an individual licensed by another state would have needed to practice without compensation (referring to wages, but not including reimbursement for actual expenses incurred or nonmonetary donations).

Had the bill passed, practitioners practicing under the legislation would not have been immune from criminal or civil suits based on gross negligence or reckless or intentional misconduct.

The bill would have created a task force to report on the status of veterinary services in rural Alaska, including the availability of rabies vaccines.
Read the full text of Alaska HB 251.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation