Legislature passes bills to name caregivers, help smokers quit; could still pass dense-breast notice and student-concussion bills

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky lawmakers have passed bills this year to make sure someone knows how to care for you when you leave a hospital, expand the role of pharmacists, increase access to smoking cessation, and offer some hope to terminally ill patients, among other health-related measures.

The bills now await Gov. Matt Bevin’s signature or veto. Legislators will reconvene March 29 and 30 to reconsider any bills he vetoes; they could also pass additional legislation, but it would be subject to a veto without the opportunity for a override. Now that both houses of the General Assembly are controlled by the governor’s party, such eleventh-hour legislation may be more likely.

Health bills that have passed

The “Kentucky Family Caregivers Act,” Senate Bill 129, would require hospitals to record the name of a lay caregiver when a patient is admitted, notify that person when the patient is moved or discharged, and instruct the caregiver on the medical tasks he or she will need to perform when the patient goes home. The patient can decline this request. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville. passed unanimously through both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature.

AARP, which supports this legislation, estimates that there are 650,000 family caregivers in Kentucky who save the state around $7 billion a year in health-care costs. AARP said in a statement that the bill will save even more money by improving post-discharge outcomes, reducing hospital readmissions and better allowing Kentuckians to recover at home, where they want to be.

The “Right to Try” bill, SB 21, also awaits the governor’s signature. Sponsored by Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, it would make it easier for terminally ill patients to use experimental treatments. Terminal patients would be able to try drugs that have successfully completed the first phase of clinical trials but have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with appropriate documentation from their health-care provider and approval of the drug company. The bill passed unanimously through the Senate and cleared the House 87-7.

“Right to Try” legislation has passed in 33 states and has been introduced in Congress, and has the support of Vice President Pence, Bloomberg News reports.

Kentucky lawmakers passed two bills that would expand the role of pharmacists.

SB 101, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, would allow pharmacists to administer all age-appropriate immunizations to minors aged 9 to 17. Current law allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccines starting at age 9, but for all other vaccines, pharmacists can only administer to minors starting at age 14. This bill unanimously passed both chambers and awaits the governor’s signature.

SB 205, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, would allow pharmacists to dispense a 90-day-supply of a non-controlled maintenance drug, such as those for blood pressure or high cholesterol, unless the prescription provides to the contrary. The bill passed unanimously in both Chambers and awaits the governor’s signature.

Only one bill aimed at decreasing the state’s high smoking rate has passed this session. SB 89, sponsored by Adams, would require all Kentucky health plans, including Medicaid, to provide barrier-free access to any smoking-cessation treatments approved by the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force. Some insurance companies have barriers to treatment, such as co-payments and prior authorizations. Bevin signed the bill March 21.

Health bills unlikely to pass

SB 78, which would have made Kentucky’s schools 100 percent tobacco free, passed the Senate but couldn’t get enough support among Republicans who control the House to be brought up in committee.

Two other bills aimed at protecting the health of children made no headway: House Bill 252, which would require an automated external defibrillator in every school; and HB 122, which would require children up to the age of 12 to wear a bicycle helmet.

Three bills that would increase the state’s access to health-care providers also did not pass this session. SB 158 would repeal the requirement for nurse practitioners to work under a collaborative agreement with a physician to prescribe narcotics and some other controlled substances, and for the first four years of prescribing other drugs. HB 19 and SB 55 would have permitted physician assistants to prescribe and dispense controlled substance. The bills may have been hamstrung by the state’s epidemic of opioid abuse.

Another bill that is dead this session is Senate Bill 108, dubbed the “Palliative Care” bill. This bill passed the Senate unanimously, but Rep. Addia Wuchner, chair of the House Health and Family Services Committee, says it needs more work. The bill’s aim is to use training and education to increase access to palliative care, which is aimed at providing the best quality of life possible for patients with chronic or terminal diseases.

Health bills that could pass

One health bill likely to pass in the final two days is HB 78, which would require providers of standard mammograms to inform patients if they have “dense breast tissue” when appropriate, because such tissue can hide cancers. The notice would allow patients who have dense tissue the opportunity to determine with their provider if they need further screening.

Almost 40 percent of women have dense breast tissue, and some men do. They are twice as likely to develop breast cancer, Rep. Jim Duplessis, R-Elizabethtown, the bill’s sponsor, said at the bill’s hearings. The Dense Breast-info website says 27 states require some level of breast density notification after a mammogram. The bill passed unanimously through the House, passed a Senate committee and is before the full Senate.

Another bill that could pass would prohibit a coach from playing a student-athlete who has been diagnosed with or is suspected of having a concussion without written clearance from a physician. House Bill 241, sponsored by Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg, passed unanimously in the House, passed a Senate committee and is before the full Senate.

This story was updated March 22.

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