TOPEKA — The House and Senate on Monday consented to the insistence of anti-abortion lawmakers that a controversial provision be included in legislation to expand health coverage through telemedicine.
Both chambers gave overwhelming support to the bill, despite concerns over a section that says the law will be nullified if a court ever strikes down a passage forbidding abortions via telemedicine.
Although state law already bans telemedicine abortions, which could be induced through a pill, the House earlier this month rejected negotiations that produced a version of the bill without the controversial section. When lawmakers returned from their spring break, they reinserted the potential to undo the law so it would survive the House's anti-abortion bloc.
"Without it, it wasn't going anywhere," said Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican involved in negotiations between the House and Senate.
Telemedicine already exists in Kansas, but the new law provides structure and rules. The guidance is expected to lead to an expansion of telemedicine, which would improve access to health care in underserved communities.
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, opposed the bill because she said the potential for it to be dismantled later puts all of telemedicine at risk. Kansans deserve access to health care, she said, and those who oppose abortion simply need something they can pass each year.
"The bill has been hijacked and highly politicized by inserting an unnecessary and unprecedented nonseverability clause," Kelly said.
Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican who was involved in negotiations, said she gave in to the House position of coupling telemedicine with the nonseverability clause to save the bill.
"Telehealth is too important, in my opinion, to all Kansans, not just rural Kansans," she said.
Lawmakers passed the bill by a 32-6 vote in the Senate and 107-13 vote in the House. The legislation now heads to Gov. Jeff Colyer's desk for his consideration.
The bill makes clear that health care providers can assess, diagnose, consult, treat, educate and care for a patient through real-time audio-video conferencing. The definition of "telemedicine" does not allow for communication by voice-only telephone conversation, e-mail or fax.
One section of the bill prevents abortion assistance through telemedicine, which is already specified in state statute. If a court ever rules that section can't be enforced, the entire law is voided.
Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, said as a retired physician, she couldn't support the invasion of non-medicine policy into the private physician-patient relationship.
"It interferes with the constitutional right to decide, in collaboration with a physician, an individual's medical care," Bollier said.