June Leffler Published

A Roundup On Health Bills This Legislative Session

Delegates join Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw at the podium during a floor session on Thursday, April 8, 2021.

West Virginia’s 2021 Legislative session has wrapped. Bi-partisan efforts were made to make healthcare more affordable and expand telemedicine. Other more controversial bills made it past the finish line with Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate.

The following bills passed the legislature, though most have not been signed by the governor yet.

Mylissa Smith’s law House Bill 2368 mandates that hospitals and other health providers allow patients to have visitors. This law is named after a hospice nurse in Kanawha County who died from COVID-19 — alone in a hospital without ever having a loved one visit her as she passed away. In the event of a public health emergency due to a contagious disease, health facilities must allow a patient the option to have visitors at least once every five days. If a patient could potentially die, hospitals must allow visitors immediately.

More postpartum women are eligible for Medicaid coverage after the passage of House Bill 2266. Current law covers women for 60 days after delivery. This bill extends that coverage to one year after a woman gives birth. It applies to women who make 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline, such as single moms making less than $33,000 a year. This would cost the state an estimated $1.4 million each year, according to a fiscal note.

One of the fastest moving bills this session was Senate Bill 12. In a single week in late February, the House and Senate passed a bill that gives more power to county commissions over actions taken by local health departments. Any ordinance passed by local health officials would have to have approval from a majority of county elected officials. The governor has signed this bill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says needle exchange programs are one of the most effective ways to combat the spread of HIV and other blood borne illnesses. Despite this, these programs have been highly controversial for those living nearby operations that offer services directed at IV drug users. Proponents of Senate Bill 334 say it will regulate syringe service programs like all other healthcare and give communities a say in what activities can occur in their own backyards. County elected officials would need to approve any program within their jurisdiction. Syringe service providers say the legislation could turn away participants. The bill issues a goal or a 1 to 1 exchange, requiring participants to return all their needles to get the sample amount in clean syringes.

Many abortion related bills were introduced this session, but only one made it through the finish line. House Bill 2982 doesn’t outlaw or restrict abortion in any way, but pro-choice and pro-life advocates took a serious interest in this bill. It retooled informed consent law regarding medication abortion, which works by taking two pills within a 48-hour period. Now abortion providers must tell their patients that they can stop the abortion if they choose. Even if a woman takes the first pill, she could opt out of the taking the second pill and potentially retain the pregnancy. Legislators debated if this was medically sound advice. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it is not.

Senate Bill 387 would drug test low-income parents applying for cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF. The Department of Health and Human Resources has run a pilot program with the same protocols for the past three years. Bill proponents say this helps connect those with substance use disorder to treatment programs. Opponents say it would deter those in need from even applying for the benefits, for themselves and their children.