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A phone call away

A bill to implement an Arkansas operated suicide prevention hotline was passed through House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee Tuesday.

Arkansas calls to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are filtered to nearby states like Tennessee because Arkansas currently does not have a hotline. In recent years, the state has moved from No. 16 to No. 10 for the highest rate of suicides in the nation.

House Bill 1775, sponsored by Rep. Bob Johnson, proposed a mandate to the Department of Health to establish and maintain a suicide prevention hotline.

It was noted in committee if 70 percent of Arkansas calls to the National Prevention Hotline are not answered in Arkansas, the state will lose approximately $1.4 million in suicide prevention dollars.

Advocates for the bill stated that approximately 571 Arkansans die of suicide each year and more die from suicide than vehicle wrecks and homicides. It was also stated that a person is two and one-half times more likely to die of suicide than of homicide.

With no testimony against the bill, lawmakers were informed that multiple state organizations backed the bill referencing the hotline is important for veterans and could also assist family members.

A similar bill, House Bill 1705, is set for amending.


Putting the brakes on

Trying to rein in the Medicaid Expansion program, House Public Health Committee members passed House Bill 1465 that would put a freeze on enrollment.

House Bill 1465, sponsored by Rep. Josh Miller, proposes the state “to create the Medicaid Expansion Enrollment Freeze Act of 2017; and to declare an emergency.”  After Miller’s bill, House Bill 1300, failed in committee on Feb. 7 for concerns of Arkansas’s ability to fund the bill, Miller proposed HB1465 would stop any future over flux of enrollees under the Medicaid Expansion program.

The bill proposes that no new enrollment could happen after July 1, 2017, but those already applied and or are enrolled do have the ability to re-enroll in the plan.  Miller did say that block grants could be a possibility for funding and that the bill has “no bearing on traditional Medicaid services.” If the bill is later signed by the Governor, a formal request to the Arkansas Department of Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would be submitted to shut down the program.

Advocates for the bill stated that in Washington D.C., Congress is looking into having states pay 20 percent in Medicaid as opposed to the state’s 5 percent rate it is currently funding. They were concerned that if Congress was to require the state to fund 20 percent of Medicaid that the state could not afford to do so.

Some advocates testified their personal anecdotes of their experience with the Arkansas Works program where a relative was automatically enrolled in the program without consent after having a child. They said that once they were notified, they fought to get off the program. Advocates said there could be some flaws in the program that are at the tax payers’ expense and the legislature needed to “close the front door” on the program.

Proponents were afraid that the bill would freeze the program at a lower rate before the federal government made a decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Some suggested Arkansas may be “jumping the gun” and possibly putting a hole in the state’s budget. They inquired how many would be “left out in the cold” to be uninsured. Proponents also said that the bill would increase the number of uninsured Arkansans and it could increase insurance premiums.

For hospitals, it was suggested that with an increase of uninsured Arkansans, hospitals would have an increase of uncompensated costs. They said if funding is taken out of one “payment bucket,” then some will be taken out of a different “payment bucket,” as well.

With a 13-6 roll call vote, the House Public Health Committee passed HB1465 to “put the brakes on” the Medicaid Expansion program


“How much?”

A bill that would assist in the customization of schedule II quantity limits across the various medical practices was pulled down Wednesday from the Senate Public Health Committee.

Senate Bill 302 would “require licensing boards that govern healthcare practitioners with schedule II prescription authority to adopt rules for mandatory Prescription Drug Monitoring Program checks; authorizes board to place prescription quantity limits.”

The bill, sponsored by Senator Missy Irvin and Representative Justin Boyd, would allow licensing boards the ability to set the quantity rules for their physicians. They proposed that a blanket bill may restrict some physicians from treating their patient in the proper manner. Examples included patients undergoing various types of surgeries may require a different quantity of schedule II narcotics than another patient with a different type of surgery.

Bill sponsors suggested that the bill is a refinement and continuation of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and physicians and licensing boards would still have to be up to standard with the Arkansas State Medical Board.

Some did say that 18 states currently have a similar legislation in place. However, they were concerned that the bill did not have a mandate on schedule III narcotics.

Irvin did suggest that the bill addresses the issue of “not one size fits all.”



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