By: Lauren Schmitt
Commonwealth Strategy Group
The 2023 Virginia General Assembly session adjourned on Saturday February 25th and it was an excellent session for the House of Medicine!
The legislature adjourned but did not complete their work on a final conference budget. The House and Senate could not come to an agreement on how to handle the Governor’s proposed tax increases. Instead, they passed a “skinny budget” which only included funding for urgently needed items such as the “rainy day fund” and correcting a financial miscalculation that would have cost schools millions of dollars. The Chairs of Senate Finance, Senator Barker and Senator Howell, and the Chair of House Appropriations, Delegate Knight, said they will continue to meet and negotiate a regular budget. We are hopeful we will see a regular budget in the next few months. However, the legislature does not have to pass a budget in an odd year because they can just use the two-year budget they passed during the 2022 legislative session. If they do negotiate a compromise budget, it then has to go to Governor Youngkin for his amendments or signature. There’s a chance that the Governor could amend it if he is not pleased with what the legislature sends him. The upcoming November elections should place some extra pressure on everyone to come to an agreement.
One of our top priorities continues to be COPN reform that will increase access to more patients and lower healthcare costs. We had three COPN bills this year and sadly, but not surprisingly, all three bills were unsuccessful. HB 1600 and SB 953 would have created an expedited review process for limited projects, including imaging services. HB 2279 would have allowed Medicaid patients to qualify as indigent care for the purpose of meeting COPN charity care requirements.
Physicians had a big victory this session with the defeat of HB 2183, legislation that would have allowed nurse practitioners to practice autonomously immediately upon licensure. Once they realized that bill was not going to pass, they changed it to two years. Fortunately, we were able to defeat that version of the bill. As a result, the current law is still in place. A nurse practitioner must have five years of clinical practice before they can practice autonomously.
We were also thrilled to see the passage of HB 1573 and SB 970. These bills will require the Department of Health Professions to amend their applications for licensure to change the mental health question. This will help reduce the stigma that currently exists for healthcare practitioners to seek mental health treatment.
Another big win was the passage of HB 1835, which increases legal protections for healthcare providers outside of the hospital against verbal threats.
We also worked with the Virginia Physical Therapy Association before session to reach a compromise on legislation regarding access to physical therapy. SB 1005 and HB 2359 will allow patients to receive physical therapy without a physician referral. However, we included language in the bill that requires the Board of Physical Therapy to track patient outcomes and measure any negative impacts of the new law. Virginia joins 20 other states that already had this law in place.
This was a successful legislative session for us, but our work continues as we prepare for the upcoming November elections. All 140 seats in the legislature are up for re-election.
We are also in a unique place in Virginia political history, where an unprecedented number of legislators are retiring or not running again. Out of the 40 seats in the Senate, five incumbents announced they will not seek re-election. There are also several Senators who may lose their election in November due to redistricting. In the House of Delegates, 25 of the 100 Delegates are either not seeking re-election to the House or they are running for the Senate. So what does this mean for us? The 2024 Virginia General Assembly will include many new faces and look very different than this year. None of the new Senators and Delegates will be familiar with our issues. We will essentially be starting over on this issue and treating it like it hasn’t been heard before. This will be an extremely critical time to educate new legislators and build new champions for healthcare policy.
Now is the time to contribute to our OrthoPAC. A strong and robust PAC will enable us to meet and engage with all of the new and returning legislators. Click HERE to contribute.