OPINION: Session wrap-up from a physician’s perspective

I offer this summary of selected health-related legislation during the 2022 session of the Indiana General Assembly through the lens of a family physician.

Some notable measures that were not considered or that did not survive the session:

  • Proposal for “independent” practice for nurse practitioners was not introduced and looser physician oversight of physician assistants was not heard. That’s good result; these changes would be inconsistent with optimal quality of care.
  • No legalization or decriminalization proposals for marijuana were heard despite having 13 bills submitted for consideration.
  • Senate Bill 405 would have removed the secrecy involving the millions of additional Medicaid dollars received by county hospitals to support their owned nursing homes being diverted to other purposes. It also required the State Health Department to establish new much needed quality metrics for nursing-home care. Not to address these issues is regrettable considering the problematic quality of care in these facilities.
  • Although there was an abortion-related measure enacted, bills explicitly restricting or banning abortions were not heard. Legislators were likely awaiting the Supreme Court decision on Mississippi’s abortion law before actively considering legislation.

Important legislation enacted include:

  • SB239 adds clarity and transparency to the identification of health professionals. Many patients are confused about who exactly is providing their medical care. Advertising materials are required to include license type, such as physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Also, certain medical-specialty designations, such as endocrinologist and rheumatologist, are now reserved for physicians. Unfortunately, the badging with license-type requirement that was originally included, was removed. Still, this is a great advancement for informed decision-making by patients.
  • House Bill 1313 requires providers through 2026 to screen all patients from 9 months to six years of age once for lead toxicity, if previously not tested. This time-limited measure will better define the Indiana lead problem and form the basis of future screening protocols.
  • SB382 contains horrible regressive tobacco-taxation policy which only benefits the tobacco industry and retailers, especially at the expense of our children’s health. The bill lowers the taxation on vaping productsand on other smokeless tobacco products. That’s absolutely reprehensible.
  • SB3 qualifies Indiana for enhanced federal funding for Medicaid and supplementary food assistance programs after the governor ends a state of emergency order. It also enables children 5 to 11 years old to receive vaccinations outside a physician’s office during an emergency order.
  • Originally, HB1001 would have essentially gutted the ability of employers to institute COVID-19 vaccine mandates for employees. The bill was heavily amended to largely satisfy the business community’s objections. Religious exemptions, which were previously unchallengeable, can now be rejected if not considered legitimate. The bill allows verified medical exemptions and exemptions for those who tested COVID-positive in the previous three months. Those exempted could be required to be regularly tested at the employee’s expense. This a reasonably good result for a really bad bill.
  • HB1217 addresses “coerced” abortions. It requires providers to report suspected coercion to law enforcement which has the potential of disrupting the provider-patient relationship, especially if the pregnant woman doesn’t want it reported. The bill does not allow provider discretion in determining what is a coercive action, which is a felony, and doesn’t contain a definition of coercion. That’s bad public policy.

There are plenty of controversial issues apt to arise next session, including further restrictions on abortions, marijuana legalization and pharmacist-prescribed birth control, just to name a few. It should be a wild time.

Dr. Richard Feldman is an Indianapolis family physician and the former state health commissioner. Send comments to [email protected]