Saturday, April 7, 2012

Doctors' lobby still working for changes in 'pill mill' legislation

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The Kentucky Medical Association, historically one of the most powerful lobbying interests at the General Assembly, has mounted a last-ditch attempt to change or perhaps kill the bill that would crack down on "pill mills" that contribute to prescription drug abuse.

The bill would require pain clinics to be owned by doctors, require doctors to participate in the state's prescription-tracking system, and move the system to the attorney general's office from the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, which is made up almost entirely of doctors and has done little to curb the growing problem.

The tracking system remains the central concern for the KMA, which issued a "call to action" for physicians to contact legislators and argue that it "could infringe on privacy and lead to excessive oversight of legitimate medical practices," reports Mike Wynn of The Courier-Journal. "Other critics have said the bill could make doctors reluctant to provide pain medication for legitimate patients."

KMA President Shawn Jones told Wynn, “We would like to see something come out of this session. We would just like to make sure that it is something that addresses both the needs of law enforcement and at the same time is not overreaching in its imposition on our ability to practice medicine in a professional way.”

The KMA’s call notes that the system "tracks medications such as Xanax, Valium and Klonopin and was placed under the cabinet’s responsibility partly for patient privacy and protection," Wynn notes. Jones told him, “The access to that data really should be limited to government agencies that are charged with public health, and not law enforcement.”

Moving the tracking system to the attorney general's office is "pretty much a cornerstone of this legislation," Senate Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, left, told Ryan Alessi Friday night on cn|2's "Pure Politics" program. He said the medical licensure board "hasn't done a whole lot" about prescription drug abuse, and indicated that part of the bill would stand.

However, Stivers said he and other supporters of the bill might drop the bill's 30-day limit on the length of painkiller prescriptions because of concerns that it would raise costs to patients. Those concerns helped delay the bill on the 59th day of the legislature's 60-day session. House Speaker Greg Stumbo "has said the issue could be resolved with a simple fix in the bill’s language," Wynn notes.

Stivers and Stumbo were among a group of bipartisan political leaders, led by Gov. Steve Beshear, who issued a statement Friday calling on the General Assembly to pass the bill Thursday, when it is scheduled to reconvene. The legislature is in recess, pending possible vetoes of other legislation by Beshear.

KMA "also takes issue with a $50 fee that the attorney general would be able to charge doctors to fund the program," Wynn reports. "Jones said the amount will only continue to climb in coming years to address a societal problem that doctors did not create. Proponents contend that the fee is nominal and is capped by statute except for inflation adjustments." (Read more)

Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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