FRANKFORT — It’s been a long and at times tortuous road, but Kentucky lawmakers think they’ve finally ironed out all the kinks in a bill passed last year to combat prescription painkiller abuse.
Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told the House Judiciary Committee Monday the bill he sponsored last year “is working from Pikeville to Paducah.” Deaths from drug overdoses are down, the number of painkiller prescriptions has declined costs to the state for treating overdose patients and Medicaid bills are also on the decline.
But the bill had “some unintended consequences,” which produced complaints from hospitals, doctors and patients with chronic pain and legitimate needs about costs and delays.
Nearly every lawmaker heard from those complaining and at times it looked as though the law might face significant revisions.
But a bill Stumbo is sponsoring this year to address some of those complaints and unintended consequences should prevent that.
“We’ve tried to come forth with something that didn’t retreat from what we tried to accomplish and didn’t back up from some significant gains but brought some common sense to the problem,” Stumbo said.
Most of the problems have already been addressed by administrative regulation but because those regulations actually exceed what’s called for in the original bill in some cases, they will expire unless the General Assembly acts.
Stumbo said his bill conforms to those revised regulations and has been vetted by the various stakeholders including the Kentucky Medical Association and the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure.
Among the changes in the bill are exempting hospitals and long-term care facilities from conducting KASPER (the state’s electronic tracking system for prescription drugs) reports for each prescription during institutional care; requiring mental or physical examinations only as deemed appropriate by the physician; a 14-day exemption for surgery patients; and exempting hospice and other end-of-life medical providers.
Stumbo said the intent of the original bill “was never to tell doctors how to practice medicine.”
One of the most-heard complaints was the requirement for expensive urine tests for which insurance companies declined to reimburse for subsequent prescriptions.
Stumbo said the new regulations and bill will now require such tests only when they “are reasonably necessary.”
Dr. Preston Nunnelley, chairman of the Kentucky Medical Board of Licensure, said he’s happy with the changes.
‘I think we’ve come a long way from where we started,” Nunnelley said. “Everyone was willing to look at some of the unintended consequences and made the bill a lot better and made us more comfortable with the regulations.”
Stumbo said he discussed the changes he planned to make in the bill with Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, who pushed the bill in the 2012 session.
While Stumbo said he hadn’t talked to Stivers about the bill since drafting the new legislation, he doesn’t anticipate any problems in the Senate.
House Bill 217 now goes to the full House where it’s likely to pass with wide support.