The 2016 General Session of the Utah Legislature is now in the rear view mirror, and true to form, our legislators did not make it boring. The Utah Academy of Family Physicians was involved in a lot of important conversations. We logged some policy wins and some losses, and the only certainty is that we still have a lot of work to do. Here are some highlights and as ever, please contact the UAFP office at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or concerns, or want to get more involved with the UAFP Legislative Committee.
- HB79: Non Patient Cause of Action. In 2012, the Utah Supreme Court ruled on the case Jeffs v West, asserting that a third party who is harmed by a patient undergoing medical treatment has the ability to sue the treating healthcare provider. Partnering with the UMA, the Utah Academy of Family Physicians lobbied for HB79, sponsored by Representative Kay McIff and Senator Evan Vickers, to pull back significantly on the high court’s broad definition of qualified plaintiffs, limiting the instances in which a non-patient can sue the treating physician of an individual who has harmed them. This is one of the most important issues that the Academy has ever worked on and we are extremely pleased to have this properly resolved in Utah statute.
- SB73: Medical Cannabis Act. This bill, sponsored for the second year by Senator Mark Madsen, was the most watched and debated bill of the 2016 session. Another bill, SB89: Medical Cannabidiol Amendments was proposed by Senator Evan Vickers, and proposed a more measured approach to treating medical conditions with cannabis by-products, like cannabidiol oil containing only very trace amounts of THC. SB73 would have created a broad medical cannabis market for treating as many as 50,000 Utahns who suffer from qualifying disease states. The UAFP opposed this bill for many reasons, but most importantly because 1) we have no good science on dosing standards and contraindications for other medications and medical conditions, and 2) states in which cannabis is legal, either medicinally or recreationally, have seen significant changes in children’s perceptions of safety. More and more, children view marijuana as safe and that is an outcome that is not tenable for Utah children. Senator Madsen’s SB73 failed in the House Health and Human Services committee by a vote of 4 – 8, and Senator Vickers’ SB89 passed in the same committee by a vote of 7 – 5 but failed to come for a vote on the House floor before the session expired on March 10
- Other wins: SB32 Reauthorization of Hospital Provider Assessment Act passed, preserving critical funding for hundreds of Utah social programs, HB184 Unlicensed Direct-Entry Midwifery passed, improving informed consent for patients delivering in birthing centers, HB308 Disease Prevention and Substance Abuse Reduction Amendments passed, creating a needle exchange program and addressing public health crises involving transmission of blood borne diseases, and HB259 Substance Abuse Treatment Fraud passed, cracking down on the rash of bad actors posing as addiction treatment centers, harming patients and defrauding insurance companies.
- SB58: Nurse Practitioner Amendments. For the umpteenth consecutive year, the nurse practitioners sought to eliminate the need for physician oversight when prescribing Schedule II and III narcotics for patients in Utah in SB58 sponsored by Senator David Hinkins. This year, they scored a partial win. In a compromise between physicians and NPs, the ability to prescribe these classes of medications will be extended to nurse practitioners who have at least two year’s of full time work, including at least 2,000 clinical hours. This is a bill that has been coming for a long time. It is not an ideal outcome, but the parties involved felt that the compromise was reasonable.
- We had some disappointing losses with the failure of HB157: Age Limit for Tobacco and Related Products, which would have raised the legal tobacco age to 21, and the temporary setback of HB333: Electronic Cigarette Products, Nicotine Inhalers, and Related Revenue Amendments, which would require that electronic-cigarettes be taxed as the tobacco products that they are. HB157 was voted down in a straight up-and-down vote. HB333, however, was sent to Interim for further study by our legislators – a conversation that we will be very involved in.
- And Medicaid expansion…. Representative Jim Dunnigan sponsored HB437, which utilizes approximately $30 million of state funds to provide Medicaid coverage to individuals who live at or below 10 percent of the federal poverty limit (FPL), which is approximately $1,200 per year. This bill specifically addresses the needs of the chronically homeless and those at great risk of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. While it is a far cry from covering Utahns in the coverage gap, it is a step toward some good. The UAFP will continue to support broader coverage and better access to high quality health care for all Utahns.
- Other issues that remain unresolved, on which we need your support and engagement include regulation of nicotine inhalers, electronic cigarette regulation and tax, better oversight of opioid abuse prevention, childhood immunization issues, and Medicaid reform. If you want to learn more, please join our Legislative committee meetings. We meet every other month via teleconference. Email support@UtahAFP.org if you are an Academy member and would like to join our committee.