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State Laws Affecting Health Policy Take Effect

By Marissa Evans, CQ Roll Call

July 1, 2016 -- A range of new state laws affecting abortion, drug abuse, and Medicaid took effect last week, when most states' fiscal year began.

Many state legislators concentrated less this year on measures addressing the effects of the 2010 health care law. While the legislatures acted on an array of targeted measures, many lawmakers seemed to focus more on evaluating previous changes and waiting for this year's election results rather than significantly overhauling the current system, said Dick Cauchi, a health program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"For this year, there's to some extent an approach of wait and see," Cauchi said. "There is a moment when there is more examination of where health policy may be going in the coming years rather than dramatic changes this calendar year."

Anger over Abortion

Republican-led state legislatures were still fuming over undercover sting videos that emerged last summer purporting to show Planned Parenthood profited from the sales of fetal body parts. Democrats said the organization did not break any laws and the videos were heavily edited to sensationalize the issue.

Elizabeth Nash, state issues director for the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute, said in an interview that legislatures have refocused efforts on adding regulations for abortion providers and finding ways to siphon funds from them.

"It really is a case where the thrust of the sessions was a lot more intense around abortion restrictions than you might normally expect," Nash said. "We've seen an uptick in the number of restrictions...By the beginning of June. we saw 38 abortion restrictions enacted. That is a bit higher than you would expect in a major election year."

Florida and Idaho have laws going into effect that disallow providers from selling fetal tissue or organs. Idaho's new law requires patient consent for the fetus to be used for research if a woman experiences miscarriage or stillbirth.

South Dakota has three different abortion restrictions going into effect July 1. One law bans abortions after 20 weeks, another forces providers to tell women about how abortion medication can be reversed and a third implements more clinical requirements for abortion providers.

Opioid Overdoses

While Congress continues talks about combating opioid abuse, a number of state legislatures passed laws going into effect July 1 that aim to put more onus on providers to participate in and check prescription drug monitoring systems.

Heather Gray, senior legislative attorney for the National Alliance on Model State Drug Laws, said in an interview that states are pushing for pharmacists and other providers to scrutinize and report their findings sooner to get people help.

"One of the things I try to stress is prescription drug monitoring programs by themselves are not the only answers," Gray said. "It's a concerted effort. It's part of the package of tools that practitioners and others have in order to fight opioid abuse...There is no one solution to the opioid crisis. A lot of things have to work together to fix the problem."

Connecticut has a law taking effect that requires providers report more frequently from the prescription drug monitoring systems. The state is requiring daily reports.

Georgia enacted a law that includes provisions that force drug monitoring programs to maintain data for two years and allows law enforcement officers to use search warrants to access the data. The state also allows dispensers to report to agencies any concerns about potential substance abuse issues for specific patients.

Idaho has a new law that limits the number of professionals a pharmacist can delegate to check and report data to a drug monitoring program but at the same time allows nurses and registered pharmacy technicians to access the system on a pharmacist's behalf.

Medicaid Changes

While Medicaid expansion talks have died down as the Obama administration approaches its end, states have been focusing on ways to save money in the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

Andrea Maresca, federal policy director for the National Association of Medicaid Directors, said in an interview that state lawmakers have focused efforts on issues like managed care and implementing so-called value-based payments. Some states also have laws going into effect on Friday that provide more services for beneficiaries.

After a long legislative battle over funding, Arkansas' renewed Medicaid expansion program takes effect July 1. If the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approves the state's federal waiver application, Arkansas will be able to create a voluntary work and job training referral system for unemployed beneficiaries. The state also is seeking to stop providing retroactive coverage for beneficiaries dating back to the day they applied.

Florida children in the Medicaid program will now have access to dental care under a new law.

Washington is extending Medicaid services for young adults who have aged out of foster care. Adults 18 years or older who were in the Medicaid program as foster kids, will be able to stay in the program provided they are actively seeking employment or continuing their education.

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