Committee on Substance Abuse advances bill requiring transportation for discharged patients

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse, on Tuesday, advanced a bill that would require substance use disorder inpatient treatment facilities to provide transportation to discharged patients. 

As stated in the bill: “Service facilities in West Virginia shall offer those patients a means of transportation back to the individual’s state of birth, a state in which they have previously lived, or a state where they have a family support structure.” However, the bill provides no guidelines for distance traveled to provide such transportation, or mechanism of reimbursement for expenses incurred by the service provider. 

As explained by House Counsel Bob Leslie, “The purpose of this bill is – rather than just discharging somebody who is leaving the program, turning them out the front door and slapping them on the back – instead, what will occur is that they will be offered transportation.” 

SB 243 defines “discharge” as separation from an inpatient treatment program for any reason. Successful completion of a program, voluntarily leaving a program against medical advice, or involuntary removal from a program would all meet the bill’s requirements to be considered a discharge.

At the conclusion of Leslie’s explanation, Del. Jim Butler, R-Mason, asked: “Disorder treatment service [providers], are they compensated for this in some way?”

Del. Jim Butler, R-Mason.

According to Leslie, many patients are covered by Medicaid, or other private-pay insurance. However, Leslie noted, “If they do not fall within that confine, then there is not a requirement in this that there be some sort of third-party pay order.” 

“So as this bill stands, if they were from California, we’d be responsible for taking them back?” Butler asked, to which Leslie replied, “As it stands right now, yes.”

Del. Mike Pushkin’s, D-Kanawha, proposed amendment to prevent treatment facilities from passing the cost of transportation on to their patients was defeated. However, the committee did adopt an amendment which would limit Medicaid reimbursements to 30 miles beyond West Virginia’s borders. 

Prior to the committee’s adoption of SB 243, Pushkin said: “I’m going to oppose the bill for several reasons. For one, I’m not exactly sure who it applies to the way it’s written.”

“I visit a lot of these facilities and I don’t meet a lot of people from other states,” Pushkin noted. “Also, we’re already providing transportation through Modivcare and other means – if somebody has private insurance, they get transportation as well. I do think putting this in code will cause certain facilities to raise their rates.”

Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.

“But mostly, I don’t think this bill is assisting individuals in their recovery, especially if they’re coming from a bad situation and we say, ‘Go back to where you came from,’” Pushkin concluded. “This is another in a long line of ‘not in my backyard bills.’ And it’s not really helping anyone or addressing any of the issues we have here in this state. I’m a pretty firm no on this one.”

Despite Pushkin’s objections, SB 243 was adopted by a vote of seven to three, and will now be referred to the Senate’s Committee on Health and Human Resources. 

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