Increasing access to health care a top priority in 2021 Regular Session
BY MATT LOCKETT
Over this past year, the coronavirus and its impact on families, businesses, and the health care system as a whole have consumed media headlines, social media, and daily conversations. While it presented us with challenges we never expected in our lifetime, with adversity comes the opportunity to make meaningful changes.
The outbreak of the pandemic served to highlight our state’s more significant health issues, including access to healthcare. Kentucky, unfortunately, ranks as one of the unhealthiest states in the nation, due in part to our state’s high rates of obesity, cancer, substance use abuse, and other chronic conditions. These issues are not new to the commonwealth, but the outbreak of COVID-19 prompted us to renew our focus on solutions to these critical problems.
As your state representative, it is my mission to support bold, efficient, and effective solutions that will push our state forward and create a healthier Kentucky. During the 2021 Regular Session, the General Assembly passed meaningful health-focused legislation, and I want to use this update to share these bills with you.
• HB 556: Rural Hospital Loan Program – HB 556 is one of the most important bills we passed this legislative session. The legislation allocated $20 million to the rural hospital operations and facilities revolving loan, which we created in 2020 to ensure access to care in rural Kentucky. Eligible hospitals may borrow from the fund to pay for infrastructure, medical equipment, or additional staff positions. Of the one hundred hospitals in Kentucky, almost a quarter are rural hospitals in danger of closing. Rural hospitals are sometimes the only source of healthcare for many Kentuckians.
• HB 183: Federal Medicaid Reimbursement Increase – This legislation provides financial relief for hospitals by allowing them to draw down more federal funds at no cost to the state. Our hospitals suffered significantly from the burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. You may remember that the state required hospitals to cancel elective procedures at the beginning of the pandemic. These cancellations caused an enormous financial setback, resulting in nearly $2.6 billion in losses through the end of 2020. Hospitals are still trying to financially recover, and this legislation will aid in that effort.
• HB 140: Permanent Expansion of Telehealth – The state’s response to the outbreak of COVID-19 forced healthcare providers to close their doors and change their usual mode of operation. The utilization of telehealth medicine, which simply connects patients with a health care provider over the phone or via services like Zoom, increased exponentially. Because of the success and utilization of telehealth, the General Assembly codified current telehealth provisions in HB 140. This bill ensures Kentuckians can continue to access medical care, no matter their zip code or location.
• HB 95: Prescription Insulin Affordability – The General Assembly addressed the skyrocketing cost of life-saving medication by passing HB 95. This bill caps the cost of prescription insulin at $30 for a 30-day supply, regardless of the amount or type prescribed. All too often, I hear heartbreaking stories of patients rationing their insulin supply. Some are forced to make the unimaginable choice between buying groceries for their family and purchasing their medication. This bill makes life-saving medication more affordable and accessible for those who desperately need it to survive and live a healthy life.
• HB 50: Mental Health Parity – The pandemic took a toll on all of us, especially those who were already dealing with a mental health issue. Those dealing with a mental health condition must get the treatment they need, and the General Assembly passed legislation to do just that. HB 50 requires an insurer to handle treatment for a mental health condition in the same manner as treatment for a physical health condition. It prevents insurers from imposing harsher restrictions or limitations on mental health treatment than they would for physical health conditions. This bill brings Kentucky in line with the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.
• HB 7: Substance Abuse Recovery Ready Communities – The General Assembly also approved legislation a better coordinated local-level approach to helping Kentuckians recover from substance abuse. HB 7 lays the groundwork for local communities to become designated Recovery Ready Communities, similar to the approach used for the Work Ready Community Program. The certification program provides a quality measure of the prevention, education, and recovery resources available in a community.
As always, I hope you will contact me with any questions or concerns. You can reach me here at home anytime or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. If you would like more information, visit the legislature’s website legislature.ky.gov or email me at Matt.Lockett@lrc.ky.gov. Please follow me on Facebook @Matt Lockett – KY State Representative – 39th District.