Legislature passed few health-related bills; took small steps on child obesity, diabetes, elder abuse

There were proposals to combat childhood obesity, fight methamphetamine production, impose a statewide smoking ban and protect nursing home residents, but Kentucky lawmakers were reluctant to make changes through health-related legislation this year, with one big exception. Some small strides were made, but in large part much-heralded bills did not get much farther than committees.

The major exception was Senate Bill 110, sponsored by Senate Republican Floor Leader Robert Stivers of Manchester, left, which flew through the General Assembly at eyebrow-raising speed. The bill greatly expands the scope of care optometrists can provide to their patients, including a corrective laser procedure that optometrists can now do only in Oklahoma. Normally, that procedure can only be performed by ophthalmologists, who are trained medical doctors. The bill also allows optometrists to prescribe certain drugs and lets the state Board of Optometric Examiners define what procedures optometrists can legally perform, a more fundamental policy change.

The bill was cause for controversy also because of the amount of campaign contributions, totaling almost $400,000, that optometrists made to all but one legislator and Gov. Steve Beshear in the past two years.

One of the first bills to make headlines was House Bill 193, a proposal by state Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, left, to ban smoking statewide in public spaces and workplaces. Though hopes were never high it would pass, advocates said the time was right to introduce the idea to the General Assembly and educate legislators about the importance of a comprehensive law that would protect all employees, including restaurant and nightclub workers, from second-hand smoke. “Here’s what’s important: We don’t want to settle for a half-baked law,” said Amy Barkley, a director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

At the dawn of the session, state Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, right, introduced a pack of bills designed to fight childhood obesity. One would have required the assessment of elementary school children’s body mass indices, or weight-to-height ratios. Another would have required that elementary school children receive 30 minutes of physical education a day. Neither of these proposals were able to gain traction, but Wuchner did win passage of House Concurrent Resolution 13 creating a legislative task force on childhood obesity. By examining child-care facilities, before-and after-school programs, physical education in schools and higher school nutrition standards, members will come up with strategies to get children eating more healthily and exercising more frequently.

Diabetes, which is often preceded by obesity, was also addressed in the form of Senate Bill 63, which charges several state offices, including the Department for Public Health, to try to reduce the incidence of the disease in the state and improve diabetes care, and Senate Bill 71, which establishes the Kentucky Board of Licensed Diabetes Educators and defines diabetes education.

The “meds-for-meth” bill, which would have required prescriptions for three popular decongestants used to make methamphetamine, drew a lot of attention — and pro and con advertising dollars — this year, but was not able to make headway after clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-4 on Feb. 3. The sponsor, Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London, right, promised to broach the issue again next year. “We’re waiting for something very terrible to happen by not acting on this,” he said. “A tragedy’s gonna happen here and then we’re all really gonna feel bad.”

After several stories about elder abuse and nursing home neglect ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal late last year, two bills were on the table to provide protection for those potentially in harm’s way. But neither — whether that be requiring coroners to investigate nursing home deaths or making nursing home workers be subject to a background check — made any headway. House Bill 52, intended to prevent elder abuse by prohibiting a convicted adult abuser from inheriting from the victim after he or she dies, did pass.

Other health-related bills that passed:

House Bill 121, which bans methylenedioxypyrovalerone, the primary ingredient on products marketed as “bath salts.” The product is sold in stores and online under names like Cloud Nine, Red Dove, Blue Silk and Ivory Wave, and, if used inappropriately, can cause paranoia, hallucinations and violent behavior.

House Bill 311, which allows physicians to submit electronic or faxed prescriptions for methamphetamine and Schedule II controlled substances. Previously, the prescriptions could only be written.

House Bill 12, which allows mental health professionals to perform an examination using telehealth services. One of its amendments requires health care facilities to report data on health-facility acquired infections and to implement infection prevention programs.

House Bill 362, which establishes licensing requirements for ginseng dealers.

Senate Bill 40, which allows pharmacists to give flu shots to children 9 to 13.

House Concurrent Resolution 138, which urges Congress to provide more resources to treating veterans and military personnel for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Senate Bill 112, which limits the amount of a copayment or coinsurance that must be paid for services rendered by a physical therapist or occupational therapist to 20 percent of the total charge of the service.

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