By Mark DeSantis, PAC
Katie Kugler, PAC
Governmental Affairs Committee Co-Chairs
The Spring of 2022 led to numerous legislative successes for Pennsylvania PAs. The Society has concentrated on making elements of the COVID-19 waivers permanent. For the past 2 1/2 years, PAs have been able to practice at the top of our license due to the emergency waivers enacted by Governor Wolfe in March of 2020.
In July, the Pennsylvania legislature adjourned for the summer after passing the largest budget in the history of the Commonwealth. It also extended the remaining Governor’s covid -19 emergency waivers until October 30th. The details of those waivers can be found at https://www.dos.pa.gov/Pages/COVID-19-Waivers.aspx
The waivers, however, will not get any further extensions as a new administration will take over as of January 2023.
As the legislature left on summer recess, several key pieces of legislation that made prior emergency waivers permanent were sent to the Governor’s desk for signature to become law.
House Bill 2401 (became Act 30 of 2022) sponsored by Representative Jeff Wheeland of Williamsport PA made order writing for home care services permanent for both PAs and NPs. The legislation was brought about by the passage of the federal CARES Act, in March of 2020 when Congress permanently changed federal law to allow NPPs (Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants) to order and oversee orders for home health services.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s home health care agency licensure regulations however still required a physician to order and oversee home health care services. In May 2020, the Department waived that requirement, and this waiver was continued under federal Acts 21 and 73. Passage of House Bill 2401 brought Pennsylvania home health care agency law in line with federal law.
House Bill 2419 (became Act 76 of 2022) sponsored by Representative Tina Pickett, Towanda, PA, passed allowing PAs to perform tele-psych encounters. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many behavioral health providers moved to an entirely virtual model. Telehealth made mental health services more accessible for patients to get treatment from the privacy of their own home, particularly for patients in challenging geographic areas or who may be facing transportation barriers.
The legislation allows outpatient psychiatric clinics to meet the growing demand and address the shortage of in-person psychiatric time we are facing in Pennsylvania. The legislation removes a statutory barrier giving the Department of Human Services more flexibility to issue waivers to accommodate individual clinics in providing mental health services.
Per House Bill 2419, PAs will be required to obtain a mental health certification within two years of being hired by an outpatient psychiatric clinic to conduct tells-psych visits.
House Bill 2419 was also the vehicle that extended all the remaining Emergency COVID waivers which included telemedicine. The State Board of Medicine has added an extensive frequently asked questions section on their website on the practice of telemedicine after October 30th.
One of the more important bills that did not pass and become law before summer recess is Senate Bill 705 sponsored by Senator Elder Vogel, Jr. to make telemedicine permanent in the Commonwealth. This bill defines telemedicine, offers guidelines outlining who can provide telemedicine services, and provides clarity around insurance company reimbursement for these services. Although the legislation requires payments for telemedicine services, those payments would be established between the provider and insurer. The bill remains in the House Insurance Committee. Its fate is unknown but not generally considered likely to move out of committee before this legislative session ends in November.
House Bill 2679 (became Act 80 of 2022) was sponsored by Representative David Hickernell and made permanent the waiver for PAs to be authorized to administer influenza and COVID vaccines.
These bills round out a very success 2021- 2022 legislative session for Pennsylvania PAs. Act 78 and 79 of 2021 known as the PA Modernization Acts. These bills amended both the Medical and Osteopathic Acts to eliminate the restrictive barriers to practice by increasing the PA to physician ratio to 6:1, by reducing the need for countersignature except for first year as a new graduate or the first year in a new specialty, by permitting a written agreement to be active upon filing versus awaiting board approval, and by adding permanent PA voting seats to both licensing Boards.
The PSPA extends its gratitude to all those who worked so hard to accomplish such significant progress in PA practice in Pennsylvania.