Dr. Richard Feldman: Medicine saw many wins, some losses this session

  • Comments
  • Print

Dr. Richard FeldmanThe Indiana General Assembly adjourned its 2023 session late last month. This session was marked with some important advancements, along with some disappointments, in medical-related legislation. Here is my take from the perspective of a family physician and former public health official.

Indiana remains one of the unhealthiest states in the country, and public health funding is near the bottom. An unfortunate Hoosier tradition. SB 4 is a landmark bill that infuses $225 million over the biennium for local health department infrastructure and provision of health programs. More needs to be done. Speaking of that, the Legislature did not seriously consider raising the cigarette tax.

SB 7 prohibits noncompete clauses in employment contracts with primary care physicians (family medicine, general pediatrics and internal medicine). The belief is that this prohibition creates more competition, lowers health care costs, establishes greater practice freedom, and preserves access and continuity of care for patients. Other specialists benefit from certain situations when non-compete clauses are unenforceable and from a process for contract buyout mediation.

There is concern, although controversial, that Indiana hospital pricing is one of the highest in the country. House Bill 1004 augments the process of hospital financial-data collection and reporting to the state.

With the new abortion law, it’s more important than ever to prevent unwanted/unplanned pregnancies. HB 1568 increases access to birth control by permitting pharmacists to safely prescribe self-administered hormonal birth control in the form of pills, patches and rings (as allowed in 24 other states). The bill has many safeguards, including patient-screening tools, pharmacist training, referrals to the primary care provider, and further rulemaking with input from medical experts. Also, prescription duration is limited to six months, and patients must see their provider within 12 months.

HB 1001, the state budget bill, maintains reimbursement to Medicaid and Healthy Indiana Plan providers at Medicare rates. This should help preserve patient access to providers. HB 1001 also increases state funding for Indiana residency-program expansion and support for maintaining quality family-medicine residencies. Indiana has one of the worst physician shortages in the country.

SB 275 adds to the list of specialty designations that should be reserved for physicians, such as “pulmonologist,” “allergist” and “neonatologist.” Unfortunately, the badging requirement that would have included license type was amended out of the bill. Patients continue to be confused about who exactly provides their care in the clinical encounter. Clear disclosure of the type of health professional needs further clarity and transparency.

Several unsuccessful bills would have enabled advanced practice registered nurses with prescriptive authority to practice independently without a physician collaboration agreement. These were strongly opposed by the physician community, clearly based on quality-of-care concerns. Nurse practitioners are valuable health care professionals, but they are not physicians and should be part of a physician-led team.

SB 480 was a contentious bill that prohibits gender transition care for minors by either medication or surgery, even with parental consent. National medical organizations firmly support this medical care that is shown to preserve emotional well-being and prevent suicides. Shouldn’t these decisions be better left to families and physicians without interference? So much for the conservative belief in small, non-intrusive government.

Only one of 13 marijuana bills received a hearing. A bill on decriminalization was heard in committee without a vote. This was historic, as it was the first time marijuana was debated at the Indiana Legislature. Undoubtedly, more to come.

Overall, this was a good session for health care.•


Feldman is a family physician, author, lecturer and former Indiana State Department of Health commissioner for Gov. Frank O’Bannon. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

Click here for more Forefront columns.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.