Arizona Senate Health and Human Services Committee passes 15 bills
The Arizona Senate Health and Human Services committee met on Tuesday and passed 15 healthcare-related bills, sending them to the Senate floor for further consideration. After a brief report of Arizona’s Child Fatality Review Program from 2022, which showed that Arizona’s highest child mortality rate in 10 years was in 2021, members discussed Senate Bill 1421.
SB 1421 would expand the definition of developmental disabilities to include disability contributed to Prader-Willi Syndrome. Prader-Willi Syndrome is the most common genetic disorder that causes life-threatening obesity in children through constant and unmanageable hunger. The House Health and Human Services committee unanimously passed the House version of this bill during a meeting last month.
SB 1250 passed by a narrow vote of 4-3. The bill would require employers to allow employees who complete religious exemption forms to opt-out of requirements for COVID-19, influenza A and B, the flu, or any vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. The bill would also prohibit discrimination in employment based on vaccination status.
Committee members unanimously passed SB 1077, which would expand the evaluation of mental health agencies and treatment agencies to include facilities that are exempt from DHS licensure, and accredited by correctional healthcare associations. Exemptions to DHS licensure include county jails.
For jails to become accredited and authorize healthcare services, they must inform Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) that they meet standards. Jails would be accredited once every three years, and accredited jails can act as court-ordered treatment facilities, operating in the same way that any hospital or treatment agency does. Psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and nurse practitioners, and behavioral health technicians will be able to provide services to those incarcerated.
“What is the advantage of this bill? What does it fix?” Sen. Theresa Hatathlie (D – Navajo) asked.
Speaker Paula Perrera explained to Hatathlie that individuals with mental illness and who are experiencing mental distress often end up in jail, resulting in unaddressed treatment. Rather than having individuals cycle in and out of jails, this bill gives accredited jails routes to providing treatment.
SB 1186 focuses on the rights of foster care children and their caregivers. The bill would extend the rights of foster care children and parents to kinship foster care children and parents. It also expands on their outlined rights, and extends the rights of foster children who are at least 16 years to a kinship foster child who is at least 14 years.
The bill would also require the Department of Child Safety to provide information on the foster child’s rights, and assistance in understanding and enforcing these rights. It establishes outlines of parental and guardian rights for investigations of allegations related to abuse and neglect. The committee passed the bill unanimously.
SB 1220 designates ADHS as the state’s lead agency in addressing Alzheimers and dementia diseases. It would direct ADHS to develop a state plan and outline requirements for Alzheimers, with the plan being updated every three years. The committee passed this bill by 6-1 votes.
“I have spent the last 10 years in a professional and a personal capacity assisting, educating, supporting, and advocating on behalf of older adults who have been personally impacted by dementia,” Arizona resident Carol Brown said during testimony. “We can make positive strides forward by reviewing, updating and implementing the Alzheimer’s Arizona State Plan, which was completed in 2015.”
Several bills passed through the committee more quickly than others, including SB 1283, which would require the Arizona State Board of Dental Examiners to post its annual report onto its public website, and SB 1285, which would require ADHS to convene stakeholders and staff to develop recommendations to obstetrics and gynecology services provided in rural communities. It passed unanimously.
SB 1333 would require health profession regulatory boards to report information to ADHS regarding the revocation of a health professional’s license, and to create a searchable online database on the department’s website by July 1st, 2024, for transparency purposes. The bill passed by a vote of 6-0.
Under SB 1603, all licensed hospitals would have to comply with federal hospital price transparency regulations. The bill would require ADHS to annually confirm each hospital’s compliance. Speakers brought up how unknown healthcare costs act as a barrier to preventative and early care and expressed concerns about nongovernmental agencies releasing reports of non-compliant hospitals.
Several hospital workers highlighted how CMS provides the facilities guidance and that some fields on the form may be left blank, which is why nongovernmental organizations claim several Arizona hospitals are noncompliant. Further reasons for being out of compliance include implementing CMS guidance and updating data from 2022. The bill passed by a vote of 4-3.
The committee unanimously passed SB 1084, which would appropriate $200 million from the general fund to the Arizona Health Innovation Trust Fund for fiscal year 2024. This bill was developed by the legislation to address challenges of previous significant investments, which could not keep up the pace of patient or economical needs.
SB 1293 was passed by a vote of 5-2, and would require ADHS to contract with a third party entity to inspect long-term care facilities, by July 1st, 2024. It also requires the third party to inspect each long term care facility at least twice per year unless additional inspections are necessary in response to complaint allegations. Inspections must be unannounced, and the bill will establish a long-term care inspection services fund.
“I totally understand the sponsor’s motivation for the bill,” Executive Director of the Arizona Public Health Association Will Humble said. “In my experience, those complaints that come in are some of the best information that we have to find really bad deficiencies in facilities. To outsource that to a third party, I think in the end, is a big system change that is probably doing more harm than good.”
The bill would strip funding from ADHS to transfer to a request for proposal process for third party entities. SB 1157 unanimously passed, and will establish discharge requirements for hospitals discharging patients to assisted living centers and assisted living homes. It outlines the required information to be included in discharge plans.
SB 1254 passed unanimously and aims to remove the requirement that a container of schedule 2 controlled substances that’s an opioid directly dispensed by a pharmacist have a red cap. The red cap can act as a signal that someone has prescribed opioids, and this bill would create more confidentiality for patients receiving opioids.
Another bill that received a split response was SB 1249, which would allow international medical graduates to engage in medical practice in Arizona without additional training or additional residency requirements, if the outlined criteria are met, including basic English fluency. While part of the goal of this bill is to address the healthcare workforce shortage in the state, public testimony consisted of concerns about if international graduates are receiving enough training and whether that training is consistent with training in the states.
Jeremy Browning provided testimony on behalf of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association, saying the bill doesn’t account for Arizona’s strengths, such as the 700 current medical students in the state and the state’s six medical schools.
“What message does this send to those students?” Browning asked. “These students that spent four years undergrad, four years in graduate school, three years in residency—they have mortgaged 11 years of their life to practice medicine as a physician in the state of Arizona. What we’re saying is that people with less years—three years in Singapore plus two years practicing there—five, six years of experience can start practicing before someone who has 11 years of experience.”
The final bill of discussion, which passed unanimously, is SB 1218. The bill would remove the requirement for naturopathic medical students who wish to engage in a naturopathic medical clinical training program to apply for a clinical training program certificate.