June Leffler Published

Diabetes, Abortion And All Things Health This Legislative Session

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A number of health-focused bills came before the West Virginia Legislature this session, but only a few passed.

Diabetes: Diabetes is the most costly chronic illness someone can have, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With potentially hundreds of dollars in out of pocket costs each month, one out of four diabetics say they have rationed insulin to pay for other necessities. West Virginians are more likely to die of diabetes complications than those living in any other state.

Del. Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, is a doctor in Huntington and sponsor of House Bill 4252. He said cutting costs for diabetics could save lives. This bill would have capped copays for insulin at $35 a month (West Virginia capped these costs at $100 a month in 2020). Ultimately, it gained bipartisan support in both chambers but couldn’t be finalized by the midnight deadline on the last day of session.

It also would have cut costs for devices diabetics use to better monitor and regulate their blood sugar levels. This bill would have affected those with private insurance and the state-run insurance program PEIA. It would not have curbed costs for those on Medicaid or Medicare or who don’t have insurance.

Abortion: The Republican-controlled legislature has chipped away at reproductive rights over the years. This year, each chamber put forward their own restrictions on abortion. Senate Bill 468 passed. It will prevent women from ending a pregnancy if they believe the fetus would develop a disability. West Virginians for Life lobbied for this bill, saying it would protect the lives of those with Down syndrome. OBGYNs said this law will compromise open dialogue between physicians and patients. It awaits the governor’s signature.

House Bill 4004 would have banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy (the current threshold is 20 weeks), but it didn’t pass. This bill mirrors a Mississippi law that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on this summer.

COVID-19: The U.S. may be at a turning point in the pandemic. Cases have plummeted following the omicron variant surge, and federal health officials have relaxed masking guidelines. West Virginia lawmakers were eager to propose measures they say would get things back to normal and protect personal liberties. Several bills were introduced that would have barred entities from implementing vaccine, quarantine and masking provisions. Almost none of these bills will become law.

One bill that prevailed will bar public universities and colleges from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine for enrollment. It awaits the governor’s signature. No public institutions currently have that requirement. Another bill introduced by Del. Jordan Maynor, R-Raleigh, would have banned local and state school officials from making mask rules. It passed the House but never saw the Senate floor.

Value-based payments: Lawmakers are experimenting with different ways to fund health care in West Virginia. Patients and insurance companies are used to paying for services, a check up here, some testing there. But another, less conventional option is payment based on health outcomes.

Lawmakers approved a pilot program to pay addiction treatment centers based on what clients are doing months and even years after initial treatment. Health providers would be paid more if their clients end up with jobs, attain their own housing and don’t relapse. Lawmakers say this arrangement dangles a carrot in front of health providers so they do better.

Value-based payments won’t be widespread anytime soon, but lawmakers have adopted language that could make these payments possible in the near future for local health departments and behavioral health clinics. 

These three bills await the governor’s signature.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.