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Reaching out

Two bills were presented to the Senate and House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees Wednesday and Thursday that drew a lot of praise and criticism from legislators and audience members.

Senate Bill 146, sponsored by Senator Cecile Bledsoe, would “amend the laws concerning telemedicine; and to create the Telemedicine Act.” The premise of the bill is to allow physicians to provide patients with services in various settings whether in a school or private setting through visual and audio methods.

Concerns raised by legislators primarily revolved around parental consent for fear parents would be left out of the loop when it came to the delivery of telemedicine to their child during the school day. The bill was amended to include “informed consent.” The physician would either be the primary care physician or pediatrician of the minor or have an arrangement with the minor’s PCP. There was also concern that telemedicine could take patients from local physicians.

Medical professionals from various hospitals did say that telemedicine would assist in treating some patients who frequent the hospitals and could help in more preventative measures. They also noted that some patients live hours away from Little Rock and this would assist in reaching patients in rural areas.

Two amendments were adopted on the bill and it was placed back on the Senate’s calendar. If the bill is later written into law, Arkansas would join 26 other states that now practice telemedicine.

House Bill 1300, sponsored by Rep. Josh Miller, was brought before the House Public Health Committee Thursday and would “require the Department of Human Services to prioritize spending with the department and the Arkansas Medicaid Program to fully fund home- and community-based services for individuals with developmental disabilities.” A similar bill, House Bill 1033, was signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson Jan. 27 to start providing services to 500 to 700 developmentally disabled Arkansans who have been on a Medicaid waiting list several years.  Miller’s bill proposed finding additional funding to assist the other individuals who would be left on the waiting list. Approximately 3,000 Arkansans are on the waiting list for services.

Calculations from the Arkansas Department of Human Services suggested that the bill could cost $43 million to support. The department said the Tobacco Settlement funds through HB1033 were unutilized due to ARHealthNetworks program no longer existing. However, HB1300 could possibly require the department to find funding within that is already being used by existing programs.

The bill did gain praise as an audience member testified that he had been on the waiting list for several years and is finally receiving the services he needed. He said he know participates in a work program, grocery shops, goes to the movies, does art and various other activities. He also stated that he has several friends that are still on the waiting list and if the bill was to pass, it would assist his friends acquire much needed services.

Two mothers who currently have children in human development centers did show concern for the bill fearing where the funding for it would come from. They stated that there is no price on the services their children receive at the centers and they feared the bill would force DHS to pull some funding from the centers.

Further discussion of HB1300 was postponed to a later date.


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