Booze, drugs would doom workers comp cases

Posted: Sunday, April 02, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Workers who used alcohol or drugs before an accident could be denied workers compensation claims even if they weren't intoxicated if a bill passed Friday by the House becomes law.

The House also passed bills requiring insurance coverage for diabetes treatment and changing the date the state hands over much of its tourism marketing effort to a private trade organization.

State law currently allows workers compensation claims to be denied if the worker was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

The bill sponsored by the House Labor and Commerce Committee would tighten that to include accidents caused by the consumption of alcohol or drugs.

''You have to be responsible for your actions,'' said Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, the committee's chairman. ''You shouldn't be drinking while you're working. You shouldn't be taking drugs while you're working.''

A handful of minority Democrats argued against the bill, saying valid claims could be denied for employees who had an innocent beer over lunch or were called in to work unexpectedly.

''It overreaches, it can get as far as items like cough syrup that contain alcohol,'' said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage.

Rokeberg stressed that the claim could only be denied if alcohol or drugs were the cause of the accident.

The bill passed 29-3. It now goes to the Senate.

Health insurers that provide pharmacy coverage would be required to pay for diabetes treatment, including medication, equipment and supplies, under a bill sponsored by Rep. Lisa Murkowski.

Using modern testing equipment and medication, many diabetics can live normal lives, said Murkowksi, R-Anchorage. However, those who neglect the disease risk kidney failure, amputation and blindness.

''The disease is not something that is managed without some expense,'' said Murkowski, R-Anchorage. The bill would require insurers to pay for insulin pumps, needles and testing equipment as well as medication.

Insurers would also be required to pay for up to $1,500 in training on how to manage the disease. Murkowski said she expected the added expense for companies would pay for itself from savings on hospitalization and other costs of treating unmanaged diabetes.

''What we're doing here is, in effect, mandating common sense,'' Murkowski said.

The bill passed 34-4. It now goes to the Senate.

A bill aimed at pushing up the date the state turns over its tourism marketing efforts to a private trade association passed, but fell short of the two-thirds vote required to take effect immediately.

Under a bill passed last year, the state is required to sign a contract with the association by Aug. 1. A bill sponsored by the House Finance Committee would have changed that to May 1.

Rep. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, said the change would allow people in the industry to negotiate the contract before the summer tourist season.

Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, attacked the bill, saying it would lessen the state's influence over the contract by rushing the contract.

Earlier in the session, Therriault cut the Division of Tourism's budget and increased the amount of the marketing contract to $4.9 million.

Some small tourism operators argued that the switch favored large tourism interests such as cruise ship companies.

''When the state spends money, is it for multinational corporations or is it for Alaskans?'' Cissna asked.

Therriault pointed out that small tourism operators are also part of the trade association.

''I really think the new mechanism gives more power to the small player,'' Therriault said.

The measure moves to the Senate, but Therriault expects the House will take another vote on the effective date when it returns.

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