Rep. Elliott’s guardianship legislation among three health bills sent to the governor

Published 9:07 am Monday, March 5, 2018


Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT — A bill to keep doctors’ reviews of other doctors from being used in medical-malpractice lawsuits is on Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk, along with two other health-related bills that have passed both chambers of the legislature.

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House Bill 4, sponsored by Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, chair of the Health and Family Services Committee, was presented on the Senate floor by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. He sponsored similar bills in previous sessions that got out of the Senate, but gained little to no traction in the House. The bill passed the House 58-27 on Feb. 9.

The bill passed the Senate 25-13 on Feb. 27, with Sens. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown, and Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, voting against it with all 11 Democrats. There was no floor debate on the bill, but opponents have voiced concerns that keeping doctors’ peer reviews out of lawsuits would allow factual statements to be hidden.

Unlike previous Senate bills, the House bill has language aimed at assuring that providers who are claiming the privilege are only doing so for safety and quality purposes, in the same way that the federal law requires.

“Very few health-care initiatives have shown to be more effective in improving health care safety and quality than medical-safety peer review,” Alvarado told the Senate. He said 48 other states already have laws like HB 4. “Confidentiality in peer review encourages integrity in health care. Physicians and nurses are free to speak openly about safety and quality without the threat of punishment that litigation causes.”

The two other health-related bills on the governor’s desk passed through the chambers without much fanfare.

HB 5, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, more clearly defines state guardianship. It adds a provision that would allow jury trials to be waived if the attorney, the family, the judge and a three-member interdisciplinary team agree that this is in the best interest of the person being considered for guardianship. If any of the parties calls for a jury trial, it would be granted.

Kentucky is the only state that still requires a jury trial for guardianship, Tim Feeley, deputy secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Feb. 21. He said the state is overwhelmed, and that many guardians have no resources for care. He said the state is currently the guardian for 4,448 people, and social workers have 65 to 70 cases apiece, about three times more than recommended by national guidelines.

This bill passed the House 79-3 on Feb. 5, with Reps. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, and James Kay, D-Versailles, voting against it. It passed the Senate unanimously Feb. 28.

Elliott also sponsored House Joint Resolution 33, to create a pilot called Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders, or WINGS, to examine how the state’s guardianship program is working and to identify any needed changes. It passed the House without dissent Feb. 2 and is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A bill to allow veterans with traumatic brain injuries to get hyperbaric oxygen treatment is also on its way to the governor’s desk. HB 64, co-sponsored by Reps. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, and Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, passed both chambers without dissent. It is titled the “Col. Ron Ray Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Act,” for a deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan who suffers from a traumatic brain injury sustained 50 years ago in South Vietnam.

While hyperbaric treatment is regularly prescribed to veterans with traumatic brain injuries, it is often denied because it is considered an “off-label” treatment and not covered by insurance. The bill would allow them access to the treatment, but not require insurance to cover it.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.