2018 was a great year for VBCF’s state-level advocacy!
With the help of our dedicated volunteer advocates, VBCF had huge wins on two of our major legislative priorities this year: medicaid expansion and medical cannabis. Thank you to all our advocates who called, emailed, and met with their state legislators during VBCF’s State Advocacy days to speak out about these important issues. Policy change can be a long slog but our advocates stuck with it!
On May 30th, the Virginia General Assembly met in a special session and passed state Medicaid expansion as part of the biennial state budget. Now nearly 400,000 low-income Virginians will have access to affordable, quality health care including breast cancer screenings and treatment. VBCF is proud to have been a part of the Healthcare for All Virginians (HAV ) Coalition for the last six years, working to expand Medicaid. This is a great win for all Virginians.
The new Medicaid coverage will begin in early January 2019. Cover VA is designated as the main source of information for consumers and stakeholders about the new coverage.
During the regular session, the Virginia General Assembly passed the “Let Doctors Decide” medical cannabis oil measure, and it was signed into law on March 9th by Governor Northam. Doctors in Virginia can now recommend medical marijuana if they decide it’s the best course of treatment for patients, allowing breast cancer patients access to this potentially useful tool during their treatment journey.
Medical cannabis oil dispensaries will be set up in each of Virginia’s five health service areas. Once these facilities are operational, patients will be able to get a recommendation from their physician (hopefully by late 2019). For more information: VA NORML
2018 State Breast Cancer Advocacy Day
We had a wonderful group of advocates join us for 2018 State Breast Cancer Advocacy Day on January 30 to make their voices heard at the General Assembly.
The day started with training presentations by Kenneth Gilliam Jr, from the HAV Coalition on expanding coverage to the uninsured, Jenn Michelle Pedini from VA NORML on medical cannabis and Becky Bowers-Lanier on step therapy. Then advocates met with their individual delegates and senators at the General Assembly to discuss our policy priorities (see below). Afterwards, Dr. Dan Carey, newly appointed Secretary of Health and Human Resources, and Michele Chesser, Executive Director of the Joint Commission on Health Care spoke to the group.
VBCF End of Session Update – General Assembly 2018
Prepared by Becky Bowers Lanier, VBCF Legislative Liaison, March 5, 2018
Last week the House and Senate named members to serve as conferees. These members will work together through the budget conference process to create the final 2018-2020 biennium budget.
The House’s budget conferees include 4 new members*: Jones, Peace*, Knight*, Garrett*, Torian, and Sickles*. Delegate Landes was not reappointed as a conferee as he voted against the House budget because it included Medicaid Expansion. The Senate conferees remain the same: Norment, Hanger, Ruff, Newman, Wagner, Saslaw, and Howell.
With a $600M difference between the House and Senate budgets, the conferees will work to negotiate the final budget. The biggest difference is the inclusion of Medicaid in the House budget, which frees up dollars for other vital services like raises for state employees, teachers and law enforcement. The Senate has remained opposed to Medicaid expansion so it is unclear if the final budget will include the initiative. Last Friday, Governor Northam announced that he will send down an amendment if the final conference budget does not include Medicaid expansion. The General Assembly will adjourn sine die on March 10th and will reconvene on April 18th to address the Governor’s amendments to the budget.
VBCF 2018 Legislative Priorities
1) Medicaid Expansion
The General Assembly’s efforts to expand Medicaid are at a critical juncture. The House budget lays forth a plan for the state to expand services through a State Plan Amendment while simultaneously submitting an 1115 waiver to create a work incentive program. The Senate put forth an aspirational plan to expand mental health and substance use disorder but did not include any funding for the initiative. If the final budget does not include Medicaid expansion, it is likely that Governor Northam will send down an amendment for consideration during the reconvened session.
2) Medical Cannabis
HB 1251 (Cline) and SB 726 (Dunnavant) will allow practitioners in the course of their professional practice (meaning physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants) to prescribe THC-A and CBD oil. Both bills passed the House and Senate and are being considered by the Governor. The House bill has an emergency clause, which means that once the Governor signs the bill, the provisions will be enacted. The Governor’s deadline for his signature is March 9th. The Senate bill is being readied to be sent to the Governor. It doesn’t have an emergency clause attached to it, but it’s identical to the Cline bill. For more information on next steps see: Virginia Medical Cannabis FAQs
3) Step Therapy
HB 386 (Davis) and SB 574 (DeSteph) failed to report out of the House and Senate. These bills highlighted the issue of prescribing practices, and there is interest among stakeholders to work together over the next year.
Consortium Comprehensive Cancer Center Advisory Board
HB 764 (Chris Jones) would establish as an independent advisory board in state government consisting of 13 members. This advisory board would study the requirements for designation as a consortium Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute and make recommendations to Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia relating to the process for establishing a joint National Cancer Institute-designated consortium Comprehensive Cancer Center, including recommendations relating to a joint leadership structure, research integration, and programmatic integration. This bill has passed both the House and the Senate, although the Senate amended the bill to indicate that sufficient funds must be appropriated for the operation of the Board. The House appropriators had indicated that UVA and VCU would be able to absorb the cost of operating the board. So the final passage of the bill as of this writing is unclear.