Delegate: Bill Changing Occupational Licensing Law in West Virginia Submitted in Error

As written, House Bill 2697 could be harmful to consumers receiving physical, occupational or speech therapies

WHEELING — A bill dealing with how occupations are licensed in West Virginia has caused concern this week among some health care professionals, but the legislation’s lead sponsor says parts of the measure were submitted in error.

Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, said all licensed and accredited health care professionals should have been excluded from the provisions set forth in House Bill 2697, known as “The Occupational Licensing Consumer Choice Act.” The bill’s purpose, as outlined in HB 2697, is to “expand opportunities, promote innovation and increase competition by allowing consumers to make decisions in hiring and contracting with providers of their choice.”

What that means is a barber, for example, would not have to be licensed by the state. Instead, an unlicensed barber would be required to disclose they are not licensed to their clients “using no less than a 14-point font set in boldface” and make the disclosure by at least one of four other specified means.

Howell said this would help to stop some practitioners from working as “shadow businesses” and instead get them on the tax rolls.

As written, though, the legislation only exempts medical doctors, registered and licensed practical nurses, dentists, and pharmacists, and would apply to health professions such as physical, occupational and speech therapy along with other licensed and accredited professions such as engineers.

Howell said a drafting error led to an incorrect version of the bill being introduced Monday. He said the legislation, which currently sits in the House Committee on Government Organization and as of yet has seen no action, would be fixed before moving in committee.

The current version, as written, could be damaging for patients and practitioners in health care fields, health professionals are warning.

Craig Coleman, a professor in Marshall University’s Communication Disorders department, said the current bill would permit consumers to hire unlicensed persons to provide services such as physical, occupational and speech therapy, and would allow providers in those fields to work without a license.

Citing professional implications, he said such a law would “make it a lot easier for people who don’t have a license” to work without adequate training or proper credentials.

“The main impact is on consumers who may not be getting the standard of care because they are being treated by people who are not licensed,” Coleman said.

As written, the legislation “applies to the regulation of all occupations in West Virginia except for the following providers of human health care: medical doctors; registered and licensed practical nurses; dentists; and pharmacists.

A credentialing process such as that required to become a licensed therapist assures patients and consumers that the person they are consulting or hiring “is adequately trained to do the job,” Coleman said, noting “licensure laws really are set out to protect consumers.”

Such a change in state law also could make it impossible for consumers to get insurance coverage for services performed by a non-licensed professional.

“From an insurance reimbursement standpoint, most therapies are covered by reimbursement in some part from a third-party payer,” he said. “Medicare and Medicaid require a license … You would never be able to work in a hospital without a license.”

Coleman said the West Virginia Speech and Hearing Association and the West Virginia Occupational Therapy Association are working with their lobbyists to present a united front against the bill.

He believes it is the first such measure to be introduced in West Virginia. “Something like this was attempted in a couple of other states in the past couple of years, but it didn’t go anywhere,” he said.

Professionals also are concerned that the legislation, as written, could set a bad precedent for other states.

People who have written to legislators have received feedback that lawmakers were not fully aware of the implications and were rethinking their position, he said.

The bill includes as co-sponsors delegates Geoff Foster, R-Putnam; D. Rolland Jennings, R-Preston; Terri Sypolt, R-Preston; and Scott Cadle, R-Mason.

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