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Weekly Address – March 11, 2021

From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.

Sometimes I wish I had studied medicine, for the perspective it would give me when voting on controversial legislation.

Some of the most difficult issues that legislators have to address affect medicine, health care and scope of practice.

The Senate will soon consider a bill passed just this week by the House of Representatives, which would allow pharmacists to dispense birth control pills without a prescription.

Advocates say that it would provide much-needed birth control services in rural and isolated areas of Arkansas, where it’s not easy to schedule doctor visits. Under the bill, the woman would still have to visit a doctor at least every six months.

Medical groups oppose the measure, out of concern that only certified physicians should prescribe drugs as strong as birth control.

Also this week the Senate approved legislation allowing certified nurse midwives to deliver babies independently of a physician, as long as the birth occurs in a hospital or accredited medical facility.

The House defeated a separate scope of practice bill, which would have allowed registered nurse anesthetists to operate without the supervision of a doctor.

The intentions of the sponsors are good. They expand the availability of medical care in rural and isolated parts of the state. It failed by one vote. Needing 51 votes for approval, it received 50.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed legislation to create a process allowing loved ones and family members to visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes.

During the pandemic, we have heard tragic stories of people who died alone and isolated, due to the restrictions in place designed to control the spread of Covid-19.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously. Our overwhelming support was motivated by compassion, but passing the bill was not a simple matter.

The bill has 11 pages of details, outlining who can visit and for how long, and which wing of the hospital you may visit, depending on the medical condition of the patient.

The bill even allows the patient to refuse visits from loved ones, in order to prevent their contracting the coronavirus.

The bill was amended four times, in order to address the concerns of medical professionals who are familiar with the ins and outs of a typical hospital.

Over the past few legislative sessions we have voted on bills allowing greater use of telemedicine, and this year is no different.

For example, the Senate approved a House bill to ensure that after the pandemic, Medicaid continues to make reimbursements for mental health services that patients receive via telemedicine.

During the pandemic, Medicaid has been allowing psychiatric counseling and other mental health services to be provided by telemedicine. That provision will become a permanent part of state law.

The Senate will soon receive a bill from the House of Representatives that would prohibit minors from getting gender transition treatment, such as hormone therapy and surgery.

In addition to the many bills affecting doctors and their scope of practice, the legislature is writing a new Medicaid expansion bill that calls for more than $9 billion in additional health care spending in Arkansas.

It also encourages healthy lifestyles, and includes incentives for beneficiaries to work and continue their education.

So when you throw in all the measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which affect nursing homes, long-term care facilities, pharmacies and hospitals, you can see why we sometimes feel we need a medical degree in order to serve in the legislature.

From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.


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