Bills on the Hill: As Budget Season Ends, Health-related Bills Move in Legislature

By Michael D.I. Siget, JD, MPA, PAMED's Legislative & Regulatory Counsel


With the enactment of a state budget, several health-related bills saw movement prior to the General Assembly recessing for the summer.

In today’s Bills on the Hill, we will review five new Pennsylvania laws concerning the Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association (JUA), medical marijuana academic clinical research centers, mandatory reporting under the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL), drug disposal in a home health agency or hospice, and updates to the Social Workers Act. 

Joint Underwriting Association

HB 1851, introduced by Rep. Tina Pickett, deals mainly with best practices for financial examinations under the Pennsylvania Insurance Department (PID). However, an amendment to this bill was introduced on June 21, 2018 to place the JUA under PID and make it an instrumentality of the Commonwealth. The JUA was created by state law in 1976 to provide liability insurance for physicians in high-risk specialties. 

Within 30 days of the effective date of the law, all the JUA’s administrative documents and other assets will be transferred to PID. The authority to act on behalf of the JUA will be transferred to the executive director hired by the Insurance Commissioner. This bill allows the Insurance Commissioner to appoint an acting executive director until an executive director has been hired. The day-to-day management of the JUA will be the responsibility of the executive director and administrative staff, to be identified and hired by PID.

HB 1851 was signed into law by Gov. Wolf on June 22, 2018 as Act 41 of 2018. It takes effect on July 28, 2018.

PAMED has followed this saga from the beginning. Members can read about these recent events here and review the timeline of events here, including the Commonwealth’s attempts to transfer $200 million of JUA funds to the Commonwealth. PAMED will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates as they occur.

Medical Marijuana Academic Clinical Research Centers

HB 2477, introduced by Rep. Katharine Watson, was passed in response to a Commonwealth Court decision that granted a preliminary injunction halting the Department of Health’s implementation of its Chapter 20 regulations governing the registration and operation of clinical registrants, academic clinical research centers (ACRCs), and research studies for medical marijuana. The lawsuit in part challenged that companies could avoid the rigorous selection process under which existing commercial growers and dispensaries had been subjected because these companies merely had to be selected by an ACRC. 

HB 2477 clarifies that ACRCs must be approved and certified by the Department before entering into a contract with a clinical registrant; a clinical registrant is an entity approved by the Department to hold a permit as a grower/processor and dispensary; and the Department’s issuance of a maximum of eight clinical registrant permits is in addition to the 25 grower/processor and 50 dispensary permits the Department can issue under the law. It is expected that the Department will issue new Chapter 20 regulations in the coming weeks.

HB 2477 was signed into law by Gov. Wolf on June 22, 2018 as Act 43 of 2018 and took effect immediately. 

Mandatory Reporting of Diagnosed Substance-Exposed Newborns

HB 1232, introduced by Rep. Thomas Murt, amends the Child Protective Services Law to require health care providers to give notice to the Department of Human Services if the provider is involved in the delivery or care of a child under one year of age and the provider has determined, based on standards of professional practice, that the child was born affected by substance use or withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure or a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. 

Before this bill’s passage, there was an exception to the reporting requirements if the child’s mother, during pregnancy, was under the care of a prescribing medical professional and in compliance with the directions for the administration of a prescription drug as directed by the prescribing medical professional. That exception has now been removed. The bill specifies that the purpose of this report is to assess a child and the child’s family for a plan of safe care and the report does not constitute a child abuse report.

HB 1232 was signed into law by Gov. Wolf on June 28, 2018 as Act 54 of 2018. It takes effect after Oct. 1, 2018.  

Home Health Agency or Hospice Care Drug Disposal

SB 978, introduced by Sen. Lisa Baker, authorizes a home health agency or hospice to dispose of a patient’s unused drugs upon the death or discharge of the patient. Before this bill, hospice workers were required to return the supply of unused drugs to the patient’s family. 

SB 978 was signed into law by Gov. Wolf on June 28, 2018 as Act 69 of 2018. It takes effect on Aug. 27, 2018.

Updates to the Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors Act

SB 530, introduced by Sen. Thomas Killion, updates Act 136 of 1998, the Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors Act.  SB 530 amends the definition of the “practice of clinical social work” to add the term “diagnosis” which is included in the scope of practice of clinical social workers in 45 other states. 

The bill also requires anyone practicing clinical social work independently, that is in a private practice not affiliated with any other practice, health care facility, government agency or government regulated social service agency, to be licensed. Individuals practicing clinical social work in any setting other than independent practice are not required to be licensed, although the individual may choose to be licensed.

SB 530 was signed into law by Gov. Wolf on June 29, 2018 as Act 76 of 2018. It takes effect on Oct. 27, 2018.

For more updates on health care legislation in Pennsylvania, check out PAMED’s Advocacy Priorities webpage at www.pamedsoc.org/advocacy.


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