West Virginia

WV bill would tighten control of residential drug treatment facilities

Good evening, it’s Tuesday.

The legislature deals with a large number of issues relating to the state’s statutory health insurance system. Campus carry continues to move through the Statehouse even as West Virginia University faces a growing mental health crisis. But first, lawmakers introduced a bill that would give state and local officials tighter control over inpatient drug treatment facilities.

The legislature targets inpatient drug treatment facilities

As they have for decades, opioids continue to ravage the lives of people in West Virginia. Since 2020, the drug class has contributed to over 3,000 overdose fatalities in the state, a number of deaths per person that is likely higher than anywhere else in the country.

On Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee heard a bill that could have a significant impact on people seeking treatment. Senate Bill 242, sponsored by Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, would create more local and state oversight of inpatient treatment facilities.

The legislation, being led by both Legislative Counsel and Senators in response to Wood County’s homelessness, would require all inpatient treatment facilities to provide many services, including drug-assisted treatment. Public health officials say this type of treatment is the gold standard option for opioid use disorders, but the service is not offered in most facilities across the country, according to a recent University of Pennsylvania study.

But a change proposed by Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, would also allow district commissioners to close existing facilities. That ability is similar to the power of a 2021 bill that would equip elected officials with syringe service programs, a bill that caused many harm reduction efforts to be shut down.

Mark Drennan, CEO of the West Virginia Behavioral Healthcare Providers Association and a former state senator, spoke before the committee opposing the bill. In addition to questioning the relationship between homelessness and drug treatment, he said the program could undo years of efforts to build public health infrastructure in the state.

“We’ve just spent the last decade with the state of West Virginia investing heavily in these,” he told the committee.

Tarr, who defeated Drennan in the 2018 Senate primary, responded to testimony that it was important for communities to have a way to prevent out-of-state residents from using treatment facilities in West Virginia.

“I’ve seen people say, ‘We don’t want you in our town,'” Tarr said to Drennan. “And I think they should have the ability to say ‘out’.”

Ultimately, the senators passed both the law and the amendment and submitted them to the Judiciary Committee. After the meeting, Drennan reiterated that he felt the law was the wrong way to tackle homelessness.

“It’s problematic and could be totally devastating,” he said. – All Siegler

WVU students asked lawmakers for mental health funding, not guns on campus

Students walk to and from classes on West Virginia University’s Evansdale campus. (WVU Photo/Jennifer Shephard)

During interim sessions last May, lawmakers heard a disturbing presentation from the director of the counseling center on West Virginia University’s campus about a disturbing increase in reported suicide attempts and suicide threats.

Student leaders have repeatedly asked for additional funding for mental health care, but those requests have fallen on deaf ears. Legislative proposals to require universities to examine how effective current campus mental health programs are have gone nowhere.

And now lawmakers are bringing in a bill to legalize concealed carry on campus that some say will make the problem worse.

“As a psychologist, as a counseling center leader, and as a parent, I am appalled,” said Dr. T. Anne Hawkins, Director of the WVU Carruth Center for Counseling and Psychological Services. “I really don’t think it’s wise to increase access to guns when we have students with depression or anxiety. What we do know is that guns on campus increase the risk of gun violence on our campus.”

Senator Rupie Phillips, R-Logan, the main sponsor of the campus carry bill, said in an interview that he didn’t see the issue as related to mental health concerns and had been trying to pass a similar bill for the long before the calls for the Funding for mental health on campus has increased during the pandemic.

“If someone wanted to do something, hurt themselves or commit mass destruction, they could come over here to Lowe’s and build a potato cannon out of plastic tubes,” Phillips said. “It can cause more mass destruction than a single shot.”

The campus carry bill would allow students to carry concealed weapons on most areas of campus and require schools to keep those weapons secure in dormitories. It passed the Senate last week despite opposition from several university leaders across the state and is currently in the House Judiciary Committee. -Duncan Slade

Continue reading: As WVU students face a mental health crisis, lawmakers want to legalize guns on campus

Lawmakers are still wrestling with the long-term PEIA fix

PEIA Director Jason Haught spoke to lawmakers last year. Photo by Will Price/WV Legislative Photography.

Supporting the Insurance Agency for Public Employees continues to be a key issue for lawmakers at this session. But discussions about exactly what to do with PEIA spiral headlong into a complex jumble of questions about how to address the agency’s problems and the exact extent of its financial woes.

Those complications were fully visible at Monday’s House Finance Committee budget hearing, with lawmakers hearing directly from PEIA Director Jason Haught. Haught was faced with a series of questions about numerous issues the ailing agency was facing as lawmakers debated possible changes to the insurance plans it offers.

A key moment of the hearing focused on several questions from lawmakers about hospital reimbursement rates. The issue was thrust into the spotlight earlier this month when WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital said it would no longer accept PEIA insurance starting this summer. The Senate has since passed legislation that would raise the hospital reimbursement rate to be closer to what other states provide.

Still, lawmakers questioned whether further changes to PEIA were needed. One topic they discussed in particular was raising insurance premiums for workers, which have been frozen since 2018. Gov. Jim Justice has pledged that premiums will not increase during his tenure.

Lawmakers questioned the wisdom of that decision. “What is the logic, other than a political decision not to pass on? [the costs] the premium increase?” Del asked. Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer.
Several bills have been introduced on PEIA so far, including proposals to cut the agency’s pay grades and remove working spouses from coverage. The proposals suggest some cuts in workers’ insurance coverage are likely in the pipeline, although exactly what will happen remains unclear. —PR Lockhart

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