Kansas lawmakers gave the go-ahead Monday to expand telemedicine services after reaching agreement on abortion language that had threatened to scuttle the move.
The bill cleared the state Senate and House by large margins, but only after eleventh-hour brinksmanship that gave anti-abortion forces the assurances they demanded.
Kansans for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion organization, fought for weeks to maintain a clause in the legislation designed to discourage a court challenge over its ban on drug-induced abortions.
The “non-severability” clause is essentially a self-destruct mechanism that would automatically wipe the entire telemedicine law off the books if sometime in the future the abortion ban is struck down.
Some lawmakers opposed to the “non-severability” language said it was redundant, that Kansas law already requires women who undergo drug-induced abortions to do so in the physical presence of a prescribing physician.
But Sen. Ty Masterson, a conservative Republican from Andover, said anti-abortion lawmakers wanted it to be abundantly clear that health care providers “couldn’t do chemical abortions via telemedicine.”
“That’s all that was,” he said.
It was more than that, said supporters of the bill. The fight it prompted threatened a year of work on a bill needed to expand the reach of telemedicine.
“The underlying bill is so important, I hate to see us hold it hostage for something that’s already covered in law,” said Rep. Eileen Horn, a Lawrence Democrat serving her first term.
The bill would require insurance companies to pay for telemedicine services if they are the same as those covered in clinics, hospitals and doctor’s offices. Expanded access to long-distance services is particularly important in rural areas.
Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican and chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, reluctantly agreed to reinstate the non-severability clause after the House rejected a version of the bill that didn’t include it.
“This bill is just too important,” Schmidt said, to risk losing over a fight about abortion language.
With the non-severability language restored, the bill easily passed both the House and Senate Monday. The Senate passed it 31-8. Less than an hour later, the House voted 107-13 to send it on to Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.