Weekly Address – May 6, 2021

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


One of the top priorities of the legislature is to expand access to affordable health care throughout Arkansas.


During the 2021 session that recently ended we enacted numerous bills to improve medical care, especially in rural areas where there is a shortage of doctors, nurses and clinics.


This year, the main strategy was to change scope of practice laws that regulate which areas of medicine a nurse or a physician can practice.


For example, we enacted legislation that grants full independent practice authority to certified nurse practitioners. Their new authority includes the privilege to prescribe medications.


They still have to complete 6,240 hours of practice under a physician’s supervision. That equates to three years of practice.


Of course, there are safeguards written into the law to protect patients, such as regular reviews by medical experts.


The legislature also passed a new law to grant full practice authority to certified nurse midwives.


In addition to their full authority delivering newborn babies, certified nurse midwives will have authority to practice gynecological care, prenatal care, postpartum care and the care of the baby for 28 days after it’s born.


Pharmacists will have greater authority, thanks to new laws enacted this session. They will be allowed to diagnose flu and strep throat, using a nationally recognized test. If they diagnose flu or strep, they can then prescribe medicines.


Pharmacists will be allowed to administer vaccines and immunizations, as long as the patient is at least three years old. A pharmacist technician can also give vaccinations, under the supervision of the pharmacist.


If someone has an adverse reaction to a vaccine, the pharmacist can prescribe and administer an antidote.


Pharmacists also will be legally able to dispense birth control pills, but only for six months. The pharmacist must notify the woman’s physician that she is taking an oral contraceptive.


If the woman has not visited a doctor in the previous six months, the pharmacist must refer her to a women’s care doctor or a primary care physician.


In order to dispense birth control pills, the pharmacist must complete a training course taught by the state Board of Pharmacy.


Another new law will allow certified registered nurse anesthetists to practice without being under the supervision of a physician. This bill was supported by lawmakers in isolated areas where there are few doctors, and even fewer physician anesthesiologists.


Finally, the legislature directed the state Education Department to set up a pilot program for high school, which will allow students to earn credits toward a Licensed Practical Nurse certificate.


The Health Department and the state Board of Nursing will help write the curriculum for the pilot program.


The high schools will partner with an institution of higher education that offers nursing courses. The higher education institution will have oversight over the academic curriculum and the selection of teachers.


The legislature made other significant changes in health care law, for example, insurance will now have to cover screenings and colonoscopies for people aged 45, rather than 50.


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