Legislative Update October 2001
Alyson Welsh, Director of Government AffairsOhio Legislators Venture Back to Columbus !
The 133 members of the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives began their fall agenda in early September. Legislators returned to the state capital to face a full agenda encompassed with debates on school funding, discount drug cards and concealed weapon laws.
HB 4: Ohio's Discount Drug Card Legislation
On the forefront of the legislative calendar in the Ohio Senate is the infamous House Bill 4. This bill is Ohio's version of the discount drug card and was sponsored by freshman State Representative John Hagan (R-Youngstown). HB 4, the Governor's plan to provide discounts to participants in the Golden Buckeye Card program, passed the Ohio House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 5. This bill provides the Ohio Department of Aging with the authority to contract out the administration of the long-standing state-run Golden Buckeye Card to an outside entity. This bill has been undergoing many changes, and OPA has been loudly voicing the concerns that pharmacy has with this program. Although initially all interested parties were told no amendments would be accepted, OPA was successful in lobbying for the following amendments to HB 4:
- "any willing pharmacy" language that will permit any pharmacy to participate in the Golden Buckeye program if they choose;
- "strong arm" language that would prohibit the administrator of the program from threatening elimination from participation in other programs with them if a pharmacy chooses not to participate in the Golden Buckeye program;
- specific language that would prohibit the administrator of the program from using any personal information it obtains through the program to promote or sell a program or product offered by the administrator.
The bill was assigned to the Senate Health Committee in late June and had its first hearing on September 12, 2001. OPA is continuing to lobby members of the Senate and the Governor's office on additional changes that should be made to the bill. There is strong "political" pressure to pass some sort of prescription drug bill as was promised in many campaigns, and HB 4 seems to be the likely target for this promise. We all realize that HB 4 won't provide the discounts that the administration is stating and that the legislation is 100% funded by retail pharmacy.
Retail Food Licensure Exemption Bills on a Fast Track!
Senate Bill 136 sponsored by State Senator Lynn Wachtmann (R-Napoleon) and House Bill 306 sponsored by State Representative Tim Grendell (R-Chesterland) are both receiving legislative hearings simultaneously. These bills will exempt pharmacies that do not sell perishable food items from the requirement of obtaining a license by local boards of health as a Retail Food Establishment(RFE). Last year, the Ohio Legislature passed a comprehensive bill to clean up the licensure requirements for grocery stores and to simplify their licensure process. Unfortunately, the words "over-the-counter" drugs were incorporated into the definition of a RFE and, therefore, many pharmacies around Ohio who do not even sell food items were being required to pay for a RFE license. Senator Wachtmann is spearheading this issue and is very supportive of making sure that pharmacies, along with many other unintended businesses, receive an exemption from this license. OPA lobbyists continue to meet with the working groups on this bill to ensure that the pharmacy exemption remains a part of the bill.
Ohio Healthcare Shortage Task Force
OPA Executive Director Ernest E. Boyd was recently appointed to the Ohio Health Care Shortage Task Force. Along with representatives from the Ohio General Assembly and other health care associations, OPA will be an integral part of the study that will be presented to Governor Taft next year. The task force held it's first meeting on Monday, August 27, 2001. The primary focus of the group is on the overall shortage of workers in the health care field, including pharmacy. Much of the focus in the first meeting was on aides in nursing homes and home health settings. The group will be developing various proposals to relieve the shortage in the health professions. We will keep you informed as the meetings progress.
Tobacco Bill Passes Senate
Senate Bill 128, sponsored by State Senator Lynn Wachtmann (R-Napoleon), was voted out of the Senate by a vote of 27-5. This bill is now receiving hearings in the Ohio House of Representatives. This bill will provide
protection for any OPA members who are tobacco retailers.
SB 128 would require that local legislative authority vote on regulations that deal with the sale or use of tobacco in their communities. Currently, rules that have been adopted by the local board of health become effective with no oversight. Under current law, local health boards have the authority to create and require retailers to obtain a separate license for selling tobacco. SB 128 will ensure that local elected officials, who are responsive to their community, will make the ultimate decision on whether or not to enact these types of regulations that have such a wide impact on the community. Furthermore, the bill will ensure that the business community will be given a fair opportunity to explain how such an ordinance would affect their respective businesses. Many of the health care societies are opposing this bill However, this bill simply requires some community oversight when a new regulation is pending in your community. OPA will continue to monitor this bill in the Ohio House of Representatives.
Diabetes Legislation Receives Strong Opposition from Small Business Community
House Bill 100, sponsored by State Representative Michelle Schneider (R-Cincinnati), would require health insurance companies to cover the equipment, supplies and medications for the treatment and management of diabetes. The bill also states that the expenses accrued with self-management education taught by dieticians, physicians, pharmacists, or nurses shall be covered. HB 100 was assigned to the House Health and Family Services Committee where it has been receiving hearings. At the September 19, 2001 hearing, the small business community testified in opposition to HB 100 stating that the passage of this bill might be the straw that breaks the camel's back in prompting some small businesses to drop health coverage for their employees.
Many representatives of the business community stated that the Ohio General Assembly's continuing passage of health-specific mandate bills, in conjunction with annually increasing health insurance premiums, are making it extremely difficult for Ohio business owners to provide employees with health insurance. The business community argued that all state mandate health bills only affect a portion of the employers in Ohio, because any self-insured companies are exempt under the federal ERISA law. However, the bill's sponsor argued that although the actuarial study did show a premium rate hike stemming from HB 100, the study did not look at the long-term life and cost savings that come from proper management of diabetes.
OPA will continue to support HB 100, and monitor the language of the substitute version of the bill, expected to be introduced soon, to ensure that pharmacists are included in the legislation.
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