New health-related laws deal with heroin, dating violence, end-of-life care, prescriptions, colon-cancer and newborn screening

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The Kentucky General Assembly passed several health-related bills this session, including high-profile measures on heroin and dating violence. It did not pass many others, including one that would have a great influence on the state’s health: a statewide smoking ban, which passed the House for the first time ever, but never got out of an unfavorable committee in the Senate. Here’s a roundup:

Heroin: Kentucky’s heroin-overdose epidemic was caused partly by a 2012 legislative crackdown on prescription painkillers, which steered users to the illegal drug. Last year’s bill died because of deadlock over sentences for traffickers and needle-exchange programs for addicts, and Gov. Steve Beshear and legislators gave this year’s bill top priority. It was not finally negotiated until a few hours before passage, but Beshear signed Senate Bill 192 into law less than 12 hours after it passed so that its emergency clause could put it into effect immediately.

SB 192 includes both a needle-exchange program and harsher penalties against traffickers, the main points of contention between the House and Senate, but requires local governments to approve needle exchanges and allows judges to be lenient in sentencing addicts, to help them get treatment. It allocates money for drug-treatment programs, allows increased access to Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, and allows jailers to provide medically assisted treatment for inmates with opiate addiction.

Dating violence: After 10 years of lobbying and debate, the dating violence bill will allow dating partners to get interpersonal protective orders from a judge if they have been the victim of dating violence, sexual abuse or stalking. This year’s bill largely dissolved social conservatives’ opposition by creating a new chapter in the law for dating violence, with the same protections as the domestic-violence law. Kentucky is the last state to offer protection to dating-violence victims. House Bill 8 was sponsored by Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, who also sponsored the House heroin bill.

Beshear has signed these bills into law:

Prescription synchronization: SB 44, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams,R -Louisville, will allow patients with multiple prescriptions, in consultation with their health-care provider and their pharmacist, to synchronize prescriptions so that they may be picked up at the same time.

Medical order scope of treatment: SB 77, sponsored by Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville. will create a medical order scope of treatment (MOST) form that specifically directs the type of treatment a patient would like to have, and how much intervention he or she would like to have, during end-of-life care.

Colorectal cancer screening: SB 61, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, will require that a fecal test to screen for colon cancer, and any follow-up colonoscopy, be considered preventive measures that health insurance is required to cover without imposing additional deductible or co-insurance cost. The governor also signed a similar measure, HB 69, sponsored by Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, which contains an amendment by Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, for a Medicaid savings study.

Newborn screenings for fatal disease: SB 75, sponsored by Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, will require all newborns to be tested for Krabbe disease, a neurological disorder that destroys the protective coating of nerve and brain cells and is fatal once symptoms occur.

Spina bifida: SB 159, sponsored by Adams, will require medical providers to supply written, up-to-date, accurate information to parents when their unborn child is diagnosed with spina bifida so they can make informed decisions on treatment.

Emergency care for strokes: SB 10, sponsored by Sens. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz, and David Givens, R-Greensburg, requires that local emergency services have access to a list of stroke-ready hospitals, comprehensive stroke centers and primary stroke centers in Kentucky. Emergency medical providers will set their own protocols for assessment, treatment and transport of stroke patients.

Alcohol and drug counselors: HB 92, sponsored by Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, creates an enhanced licensing program to recognize three levels of certified alcohol and drug counselors, with different levels of education. The goal is to increase the number of counselors in the state.

UK cancer research centerHB 298, sponsored by Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, revises the state budget to authorize $132.5 million, half of the cost, for a new medical research center at the University of Kentucky. The university says it will raise money to cover the other half.

These health bills awaited the governor’s signature Monday morning:

Physician assistants: HB 258, sponsored by Rep. Denver Butler, D-Louisville, to allow physicians to supervise up to four physicians at the same time, rather than two.

In-home care: HB 144, sponsored by Burch, to establish a 60-day, hospital-to-home transition program through an approval waiver from the Department for Medicaid Services.

Pharmacist-practitioner collaboration: HB 377, sponsored by Rep. Dean Schamore, D-Hardinsburg, to allow collaboration between pharmacist and practitioners to manage patients’ drug-related health needs.

Tax refund donations: SB 82, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, to put an income tax check-off box on tax forms to allow people the option of donating a portion of their tax refund to support pediatric cancer research, rape crisis centers or the Special Olympics.

Health related bills that were left hanging:

The smoking ban, HB 145, sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, never got a hearing in the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, and neither did the Senate companion bill, SB 189, sponsored by Adams.

Three bills challenged Medicaid managed-care companies. SB 120, sponsored by Alvarado, would have created a process for health-care providers to appeal the companies’ decisions to the state passed the Senate, but not the House.  And the following two bills that never got out of the Senate: SB 88, also sponsored by Alvarado, which challenged the $50 “triage fees” MCOs pay for emergency-room visits that they conclude were not emergencies, and would have required them to pay contracted fees instead and SB 31, sponsored by Buford, which would limited the amount of co-payments. Also not getting House action was Alvarado’s SB 6 would have created review panels for lawsuits seeking damages from health-care providers.

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