By Erika Diehl, West Virginia Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia House of Delegates’ Heath and Human Resources Committee adopted all seven of the bills on its meeting agenda Thursday, but it wasn’t without opposition.
During the HHR Committee’s first meeting of the 2021 West Virginia legislative session, Thursday afternoon, members heard debate on several bills.
HB2015 will require the rules set forth by local Boards of Health to be approved by the County Commission, except during a public health emergency.
Much discussion ensued, calling into question who would approve areas with multi-county health boards and would county commissioners be liable for overriding medical directives.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D – Kanawha, asked if it is right for politicians to be in charge of public health decisions.
Representatives from the West Virginia Association of Local Health Departments and the Association of County Commissions of West Virginia were overwhelmingly opposed stating concerns of redundancy, confusion amidst an ongoing pandemic and an overall slash to morale of local health authorities.
While it was decided an overhaul of how these authorities operate during states of emergency is in fact needed, some felt to change things at the present moment would be more harmful than helpful.
The president of the Retailers Association, Bridget Lambert, however, expressed support of the bill. She said this bill is not intended to supersede county health boards or commissions, but rather to create joint effort between businesses. She sited examples of how businesses in some counties were negatively affected when forced to operate under statewide rules that didn’t apply to them.
Majority Leader Amy Summers, R – Taylor, offered an amendment retaining control and authority to local boards of health as long as there is not a statewide emergency. The amendment was adopted and the bill passed through committee.
Another discussed bill, HB2264, grants hospitals exemptions from obtaining certificate of need for expansion of services.
The president of the West Virginia Hospital Association, Jim Kaufman, reported all 59 hospitals of the association voted unanimously in support of maintaining the current program with no changes. He expressed the belief that this proposal adds even more stress to the present felt financial uncertainty, with populations declining and hospitals closing.
Summers asked why we would not want this when it is allowing better access to care and could benefit hospitals.
Kaufman explained that healthcare is different than other markets because it is a price-fixed environment. Some hospital services, which are absolutely necessary for the public, are not very profitable services. Free markets draw the focus away from free services.
Delegate Mick Bates, D – Raleigh, suggested there have been improvements regarding certificate of need over the years but creating a competitive environment among hospitals at a time when we need to be working together is concerning. With only a few no votes, the motion to move the bill forward passed.
HB2004 addresses the permission for health care professionals who are licensed in another state to continue care via telemedicine to West Virginians.
An emergency permit in response to the pandemic authorized an exemption for those currently caring for West Virginians. Under this bill, they would need only to be registered instead of having to receive full licensure.
The Executive Director for the Board of Osteopathic Medicine, Jonathan Osborne, expressed concerns about standard of care and public protection.
Although the registered health care professional may be licensed in their respective state, they might not necessarily be in good standing or could be under investigation. Ultimately, he did say the Board would maintain regulatory authority over those registered through penalties and minimum standards. Also, Osborne assured the committee that West Virginia medical statutes would still apply regardless of where the health care professional resides.
Summers added an amendment to include emergency rules while the bill is put through to ensure there is no disruption in care. The motion to present the bill was adopted.
Several bills that will move to the House floor had little to no discussion. HB2265, which addresses collaborative pharmacy practices and an update to rule-making authority, will be first referred to the committee on government organization.
HB2260, a former bill with an amendment strongly emphasizing the necessity for performance-based contracts with all child placing agencies, will be referred to the judiciary committee.
Having been vetoed last year by the Governor for its then defective title, HB2262 will allow veterinarians to properly and ethically prescribe to their patients without first being required to check the controlled substance monitoring database for the pet owner.
Finally, HB2005 will increase the transparency of costs related to health care by requiring health care facilities to post on their website the benefit plans in which they participate. It will also include out-of-network consumer protection, cost containment and accountability, and update the review of nonprofit status of hospitals.