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West Virginia House passes telemedicine bill to aid rural areas


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Delegates have approved a bill that its sponsors hope will expand access to mental and behavioral health medications.

House Bill 2509 allows physicians to prescribe certain controlled substances through telemedicine technologies — like over a video call. Doctors are currently prohibited from prescribing certain types of medications over telemedicine systems, including narcotics like oxycodone and morphine–drugs that have been abused in recent years in the state.

Cabell County Delegate Matthew Rohrbach says while curbing the state’s opioid epidemic is a major focus for lawmakers, this specific bill does not affect those efforts. It still prohibits doctors from prescribing opioids, but would allow prescriptions for behavioral or mental health issues.

“We have a tremendous problem with access to mental health providers, particularly for our pediatric population,” Rohrbach said. “So, ADHD is the main thing that this is going to seek to close, so kids that have ADHD can be treated via telehealth to get their adderall and other prescriptions for such, so this is not to allow pill mills. This is really to extend for our mental health providers a way to service our clients in rural areas.”

House Bill 2509 passed in a 95-4 vote Monday. It now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Certificate of need process

A legislative audit released earlier this year encouraged lawmakers to get rid of West Virginia’s certificate of need process. Senators have introduced bills to get rid of the process, but delegates are trying to save it.

A certificate of need is essentially approval from the state to open a new hospital, clinic or health-related facility.

More than 30 states have a certificate of need process like West Virginia. It’s meant to prevent the inflation of health care costs by limiting the services provided in a geographic area based on need.

Two bills have been introduced into the Senate this session to completely remove the certificate of need process, eliminating the West Virginia Health Care Authority, but in the House members are attempting to clean up the certificate process through House Bill 2459.

Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, a Republican from Cabell County, is a sponsor of the bill. As a doctor, Rohrbach says he understands that getting rid of the process might increase competition in the health care system in West Virginia.

“Some states have done away with CON that are bordering us,” Rohrbach said, “and unfortunately that’s created an unfair advantage for some of our border states against our local hospitals that are providing care to our patients and they’re employing our citizens.”

Rohrbach says, though, other states that have gotten rid of the approval process have faced challenges too.

“In Pennsylvania in particular, they’ve had a lot of problems when they’ve dropped their CON, with the expansion of services, volume has went down, and they’ve had some quality problems.”

Both of the Senate bills to repeal the certificate of need process are sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, a physical therapist and business owner. While neither of the Senate bills have been considered by the Senate’s Health and Human Resources Committee yet, Rohrbach calls the House bill a fair compromise that balances health care access for rural communities with the quality of service provided.

House Bill 2459 passed 98-1 Monday and moves on to the Senate.

McCormick is a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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