OPINION

The Kansas Legislature can act now to make health care more affordable and accessible

By Elizabeth Patton
Special to Gannett Kansas
Elizabeth Patton

All Kansans deserve access to quality, affordable health care. No matter where you might fall on the political spectrum, we can all agree on that.

While people of good faith can have differing opinions about how we reach that end, there are reforms our state legislators can make immediately to begin addressing our broken system.

These reforms should focus on telemedicine, scope of practice and pharmacy point of care.

When COVID-19 took the country by surprise, Kansas didn’t wait for the federal government to step in.

Policymakers acted quickly to develop community solutions that removed barriers, ensuring that individuals still had access to care while mitigating the spread of the virus.

However, most of these reforms were temporary; many expired as we entered the new year.

Now we need to convert these short-term changes into long-term solutions.

In June, the Legislature voted to allow health care providers from other states to serve Kansas patients from the safety of their own homes via telehealth. The move benefitted many communities and lessened the risk of exposure to COVID-19. But the telehealth provision expires March 31, which could leave gaping holes in access.

The Department of Health issued a temporary general bulletin authorizing health providers to deliver telehealth through audio-only phone calls, instead of including other digital technology, such as smart phones and computers.

Lawmakers should permanently eliminate hurdles and allow doctors to serve their patients in the same manner they would during in-person visits.

Lawmakers also removed barriers prohibiting certain health care professionals, including advanced practice registered nurses, from using the full scope of their training.

Nurse practitioners , have to obtain costly collaborative practice agreements. During COVID-19, Gov. Kelly issued an EO making an exception which was further by the legislature during their 2020 Special Session.

Removing this red tape permanently allows these professionals to immediately practice to the full extent of their training, increasing the number of health care providers Kansas can rely on during these uncertain times. A study in Illinois recently showed that allowing full practice authority lowered COVID deaths by 10%.

But again, this is a temporary measure that expires March 31. Like expanded access to telehealth, it should be made permanent with the passage of SB 174.

Especially crucial right now, Kansas pharmacists can help fill the gap. Hospitals, clinics, and urgent care have all seen a surge in demand due to COVID-19 and delayed care while communities stayed at home. Pharmacy care is essential to address patient needs, especially when Kansas is near last place for vaccine distribution. Empowering pharmacists to care for their communities is key.

While we applaud our state lawmakers for taking quick action to initially extend the deadline for some of these provisions, to meet the challenge of the coronavirus we need to make them permanent, and there is still more to be done.

To ensure that all Kansans have access to health care services now and in the future, it is imperative that lawmakers remove unnecessary restrictions that keep costs high and stand in the way of accessing care in a way that meets our needs and serves our communities.

Elizabeth Patton is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas.