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House passes medical cannabis and public assistance reform

By DANIEL ELLIOTT

State Representative

The 2020 regular session of the General Assembly recently passed the halfway point, or the 30th legislative day during a busy week for the members of the House.  The House passed measures related to medical cannabis, public assistance reform, and the cost of insulin.

HB 1, a top priority of House majority leaders, would reform how the state provides public assistance to its citizens through several key provisions including changes to cash assistance programs and eligibility for expanded Medicaid. One provision could usher in a work requirement for expanded Medicaid beneficiaries who have been part of the state’s expanded Medicaid population for at least a year, with a new temporary health insurance option put in place for certain individuals who no longer qualify for Medicaid due to increased income. 

The chamber’s top leaders both presented the bill to the House Health and Family Services Committee for approval on Thursday, explaining that the bill is a “compassionate” means of addressing public assistance reform in the Commonwealth. The measure passed 57-30, and will move to the state Senate for consideration.  

Kentucky has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in our nation, which basically means too many Kentuckians who could be working are not. The number of people on our Medicaid program adds up to more than twice the number of children we have in our classrooms. Overall, almost 30 percent of our 4.5 million people is on some type of Medicaid.

Many of HB 1’s provisions came directly from recommendations made by the Task Force on Public Assistance Reform, which met throughout the summer and fall of 2019. This measure is based on the idea that if public assistance programs are going to work, there must be accountability – for both the people they serve and the people who fund them. These programs were created to provide temporary assistance to help those in need get back on their feet and reach economic stability. However, over time we have spent billions and still seen so many families fail. It is time for a fundamental change in how we approach public assistance. We must hold these programs accountable to the taxpayers who pay for them, and the people they serve. 

The provisions of HB 1 do not apply to those who qualify under the traditional Medicaid program, but rather to the recipients who have been added as part of the expansion. The bill also preserves exemptions for pregnant mothers, the elderly, and others who are unable to work.

HB 136 would legalize, within strict prescribed limits, the cultivation, processing, sale, distribution and use of medical marijuana. It would require registration and issuance of medical cannabis cards to users, plus state licensing of cannabis businesses. While it would create revenue for law enforcement and other uses proposed in the bill through excise taxes and other sources, supporters say the bill’s main purpose is to help the sick. 

Billing of HB 136 as a public health measure, not a revenue maker, is reflected in provisions of the bill that would prohibit smoking of medical marijuana legalized in Kentucky. Only the use of approved “edibles,” such as gummies, or medicinal oils and tinctures would be allowed.

The House floor vote on the medical marijuana bill has been several years in the making, with the General Assembly’s first medical marijuana legislation filed as far back as the 2012 Regular Session. Last year’s medical marijuana bill filed in the House – also named HB 136 – made it out of House committee but wasn’t called for a vote on the House floor.  The bill passed the House with a 65-30 vote.

Among the first bills to pass during this mid-point week is a measure that will have an effect on roughly 500,000 Kentuckians, HB 12. It would limit out-of-pocket costs for insulin prescriptions. The legislation mandates the cost of insulin would be capped at $100 per prescription for a 30-day insulin supply. The cap would apply to people with commercial health insurance plans.   This is a bipartisan measure that I was very proud to co-sponsor and support on the House floor.  

If you have any questions or comments about this session, I can be reached during the week from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (EST) through the toll-free message line at (800) 372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at daniel.elliott@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov

 

Daniel Elliott (R-Danville) is the state representative for Boyle and Casey counties.