By Lauren Schmitt
Commonwealth Strategy Group
The 2021 Virginia General Assembly session adjourned on March 1, and they returned to Richmond for the one-day “veto session” on April 7. Despite the challenges of a virtual session and not being able to communicate face-to-face with legislators, it was still a very successful legislative session for us. We had a lot of legislative victories and member engagement and participation. Please read below for highlights of this session.
Defeat of Medical Malpractice Repeal
Our biggest victory this session was defeating SB 1107 (Stanley) that would have repealed the current cap on medical malpractice monetary rewards in Virginia. In 2012, Virginia passed a law capping the medical malpractice monetary reward for 20 years. This was an agreement between the Medical Society of Virginia and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association. Unfortunately, Senator Bill Stanley introduced legislation this year to undo that cap. We were able to defeat this bill, but the legislators made it clear that they will try again next year and that they believe there are issues with the current system. It will be our top priority over the next year to educate legislators on why the cap is necessary and should not be changed.
Defeat of Licensure for Naturopathic Providers
We were able to once again defeat legislation that would have allowed naturopathic providers to be licensed in Virginia. Despite the bill failing last year and a recommendation from the Department of Health Professions not to require licensure, they still moved forward with legislation. We were pleased to see these bills, SB 1218 (Petersen) and HB 2044 (Rasoul) defeated in committee.
Expiration Date Added to Nurse Practitioners Legislation
We knew going into this session that we would see legislation to allow nurse practitioners to practice independently after only two years of clinical experience (current law is five years). Governor Northam issued an Executive Order at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic changing it to two years. It was set to expire when the state of emergency ends. Delegate Dawn Adams introduced HB 1737, which would have permanently changed the law to match the Executive Order. We strongly advocated against this bill and were very vocal with our opposition. As a result of the pushback from the physician community, the bill was amended to expire on July 1, 2022. This gives us another chance in the 2022 session to address this issue again- and at that point, we will have a full report from the Department of Health Professions on how independent practice has been working in Virginia. We will have data on how many are practicing and in which areas they are. The argument for this legislation has always been that it will expand access and NPs will provide care in underserved areas. The DHP report will be able to shed some light on whether that has happened in Virginia.
Defeat of Litigation Assistance Requirement
Senator Scott Surovell introduced SB 1446 this year that would have required physicians to communicate with attorneys when the patient is involved in litigation. The legislation did include some components that were helpful to physicians- such as requiring an attorney pay the physician for their time in advance. However, the physician community still had concerns and did not feel this should be mandated in the Code. We were able to defeat the bill, but it will likely be back next year.
Compromise with Physical Therapists
SB 1187 (Hashmi), allows a physical therapist to treat a patient without a physician referral for 60 days (the current law allowed for 30 days). The Virginia Physical Therapy Association had reached out to VOS in the fall about amending the current law and we were able to reach a compromise with them on 60 days.
Amended Insurance Practices Requirements
We were able to amend legislation introduced by Senator Surovell, SB 1289, that made some changes to what health plans can include in their provider contracts. The original version would have required providers to submit claims to the health plan within 30 days. We were able to get that part removed from the bill. The legislation does include “non-discrimination” language that requires health plans to prohibit providers in their contracts from discriminating against a patient because they are a litigant in pending litigation or a potential litigant because they were involved in a motor vehicle accident.
Amended Designated Support Persons Legislation
Delegate Kathy Tran introduced HB 2162, which would have required providers to allow a disabled patient to bring a support person with them to appointments. We initially opposed this because the definition of disabled was extremely vague. We were able to work with the patron to improve the bill to where we felt it was reasonable and acceptable.
Legislator of the Year
We were happy to award Delegate Patrick Hope as the 2021 VOS Legislator of the Year. We presented it to him during our virtual board meeting in April and then had the opportunity to present it in person in Arlington in early June. Delegate Hope has consistently voted with physicians and continues to be an ally of the House of Medicine. Delegate Hope is also a vocal supporter of COPN reform. He serves as the Chair of the Health subcommittee for the House Health, Welfare and Institutions committee. We appreciate all of Delegate Hope’s advocacy for physicians and patients!
Upcoming Special Session
The legislature will convene sometime this summer for a special legislative session to determine how to spend federal funding received through the American Rescue Plan Act. The dates have not been announced yet, but it will likely be in August.
This November is a big election day for Virginia. The entire House of Delegates is up for re-election and we will elect a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. The Republican nominees for statewide offices are as follows: Glenn Youngkin for Governor, former Delegate Winsome Sears for Lieutenant Governor, and Delegate Jason Miyares for Attorney General. The Democratic primary took place on June 8 and their statewide candidates are as follows: former Governor Terry McAuliffe for Governor, Delegate Hala Ayala for Lieutenant Governor, and current Attorney General Mark Herring for Attorney General.
This is a critical election year in Virginia and a strong and robust PAC is crucial to our advocacy success. Contributions to the PAC will help raise the visibility and profile of orthopaedic surgeons, connect us to new and returning legislators, and continue to build productive relationships with key General Assembly members. As always, we continue to support members of the legislature who care about issues affecting our profession and our patients. We support both parties and their leadership through individual legislator and caucus events. Please make your contribution to the OrthoPAC today! https://www2.vos.org/forms/OrthoPAC.iphtml