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What Are the Priorities For the Kentucky General Assembly's Health Committees?

Kentucky state Capitol
Kentucky state Capitol

The Kentucky General Assembly has wrapped up the first week of the 2015 session, leaving committees with numerous bills to review.

Chairs for the health and welfare committees in both chambers have set their priorities for the remainder of the 30-day session.

Sen. Julie Raque-Adams, a Louisville Republican,  said the committee she chairs will take a critical look at the Medicaid expansion, plus efforts to promote healthy living and protect vulnerable populations.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Burch, a Louisville Democrat, said the committee he chairs plans to review bills about the use of medical marijuana, mental health services and heroin addiction programs.

Raque-Adams said with more people in Kentucky receiving Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, the state has to be prepared to pick up additional costs when federal reimbursements gradually go from 100-percent to 90-percent in 2020.

"In order to be prepared to pick up those costs, we're going to have to study," she said. "Where's that money going to come from? How are we going to pay for it? If we don't figure out how to pay for it … the promises the governor has made will not be realized."

She said that research is a priority for her committee, and will remain one into the 2016 session, which is also a budget year.

"There will be numbers that will have to be put down relative to this Medicaid expansion so we need to be ready with our facts," Raque-Adams said.

Burch said he doesn't agree with the Republican's view on Medicaid. He said Medicaid will probably be in pretty good shape in the next few years and that the focus should be on modifying the state's tax code.

"Right now the way it is when the economy goes bad, your income goes bad," he said. "We need to come up with a tax code that keeps it stable and we may not have to have big tax increases in order to support programs that we got out there."

Raque-Adams said many bills have been pre-filed this session that could potentially contribute to a healthier state. When asked about a statewide smoking ban in indoor public places and places of employment, she said she hopes it will get called.

"Things will get called for a vote if the votes are there, so it's really important that we do our due diligence and we talk to people and we communicate the importance of this and that the constituents get involved," she said.

Burch said the smoking ban sponsored by state Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat, has a good chance of passing in the House.

"That should be one of the big things we can do. I tried to do that 20 years ago, ban smoking, but they put it in the agriculture committee and I didn't have any chance of getting it out of there," he said.

Raque-Adams also hopes to approve legislation that will focus on children in crisis and people living with mental health illnesses.

"Are they in homes of drug addicted parents? Are they in homes where they are safe? Are they in homes where they are receiving the benefits they need? The care that they need? We just need to stay vigilant that we protect those who are most vulnerable in our society," she said.

Burch said legislators have worked on a comprehensive mental health bill for three years.

"We've got to deal with this. Not so much has been put into our insurance programs  and now with the Affordable Care Act it is available for treating people with mental health issues," he said

He said the idea of incarcerating people with mental health or substance issues needs to be replaced with other options that emphasis treatment, not punishment.

"If you're mentally ill, jail is not the place for you," he said.

Burch said he has heard from several people about using medical marijuana to manage pain associated with various illnesses. He plans to hear testimony on it the first week of the session and he thinks it will be passed in the House.

Until the legislature reconvenes Feb. 3, the committees will be meeting to discuss the bills they have been assigned.

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