ASTHO’s 2024 Legislative Session Update: Part One

May 10, 2024 | Lillian Colasurdo, Maggie Davis, Lana McKinney, JoAnne McClure

A gavel and a sound block with the scales of justice in the background, banner in the upper left with the text ‘Health Policy Update’.

This past December, ASTHO announced the top 10 public health state policy issues to watch for during the 2024 state and territorial legislative sessions. With at least 30 states concluding their regularly scheduled 2024 sessions, here is a brief update on five of the topics to watch.

Data Collection and Exchange

As expected, there was an increase in proposed legislation that specifically advances electronic health data access, encourages interoperability, and safeguards identifiable patient health records; this was particularly true for vital records. Hundreds of bills have been introduced this session addressing state vital records systems. The state of Illinois alone has already passed several bills, including HB 2856, which requires veteran status to be designated on death certificates, and HB 2841, which prohibits the assessment of fees to victims of domestic violence who are seeking a certified vital record (birth or death certificate) from the state.

Other states such as Arizona (SB 1252) considered legislation that would require the Department of Health to provide vital records information on deceased individuals to the qualifying health information exchange (HIE). Arizona is one of eight jurisdictions (AZ, FL, IA, IL, NH, NJ, OK, and WV) that have proposed legislation addressing HIEs this session. Most of these bills increase requirements to connect to HIEs, but New Hampshire HB 1663 and Oklahoma HB 3556 would allow patients and healthcare providers to opt out of HIEs.

As many states look to address health data privacy concerns, New Hampshire recently passed a constitutional amendment granting the explicit right to privacy and has introduced HB 1663, which would update many of the state’s privacy laws regarding medical records to conform with the constitutional requirements. Just next door, Maine considered legislation (LD 1902) that would strengthen privacy requirements for reproductive and gender-affirming patient health information.

Finally, the launch of the new federal Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA) led to the Florida legislature proposing SB 668, which, had it passed, would have required hospitals to make patient records available through a nationally recognized trusted exchange framework. It would also have required the Agency for Health Care Administration to adopt relevant rules.

Substance Misuse and Overdose Prevention

Measures to prevent substance misuse and reduce overdoses, namely increasing access to opioid antagonists, such as naloxone and regulating substances with the potential for misuse, are priorities this legislative season. ASTHO anticipated that states would consider legislation to reduce fatal overdoses including decriminalizing drug checking equipment, expanding naloxone access and distribution, establishing overdose prevention centers, and establishing state regulatory frameworks for commercial substances with the potential for misuse, including kratom and Delta-8.

Current legislative priorities to expand access to naloxone include public spaces, such as libraries, schools, workplaces. Island jurisdictions along with at least four states—Colorado (HB 24-1003), Tennessee (SB 2141), Virginia (HB 732), and Wisconsin (AB 223)—passed legislation to provide greater access to and/or proper storage of naloxone in school settings. Additionally, Virginia passed HB 342 that requires naloxone access in state agency buildings. These legislative actions, along with the approval last year by the FDA of two non-prescription naloxone spray products for over-the-counter use, are collectively powerful policy shifts to expand access to naloxone.

In an attempt to regulate substances with the potential for abuse or misuse, specifically kratom, eight states have considered legislation that would restrict the sale to people under the age of 18. Similarly, twelve states have considered legislation that would restrict the sale of kratom to those under the age of 21. At least 22 states have considered legislation that would compel specific labeling requirements for kratom. Of those, California (AB 2365) and New Jersey (A 1188) would require kratom products to be registered with the state health department annually and require lab testing of the product to meet certain qualifications.

Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections

ASTHO has spotlighted the growing concerns of rising rates of sexually transmitted infections and state actions reducing congenital syphilis rates and expanding access to HIV prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

Rates of both syphilis and congenital syphilis continue to rise at an alarming rate, with more than 10 times as many babies being born with syphilis in 2022 than in 2012. Routine screening and timely and adequate treatment of pregnant people for syphilis, ideally more than 30 days before delivery, can effectively prevent this condition in newborns. Due to increasing cases, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently updated their guidance for obstetrician–gynecologists and other obstetric care professionals advising serological screening for all pregnant individuals at the first prenatal visit and universal screening at the third trimester and at birth.

During the 2024 legislative session at least two states—Missouri (SB 1260) and Maryland (HB 119)—are considering legislation that would require testing during pregnancy care at the third trimester for syphilis. Maryland’s legislature passed HB 119, which would require screening at the third trimester and at birth, as well as requiring the hospital to determine the syphilis status of the birthing parent before discharging the newborn. In 2023, New York enacted legislation (A 3007) that requires syphilis screening in the third trimester, and in the current legislative session they are considering S 2472, which would allow the state health department to provide education about congenital syphilis and screenings.

At least six states have considered and passed legislation during the 2024 legislative session regarding expanded access for HIV prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Of those considered, Georgia enacted HB 1028 to allow PEP to be issued by a standing order; Florida’s legislature passed HB 159 that would allow pharmacists to screen for HIV exposure, order, and dispense prevention drugs PEP and PrEP and sent it to the governor. Similarly, in Delaware the Senate chamber passed SB 194 that would permit pharmacists to provide PrEP and PEP pursuant to an approved protocol.

Family and Reproductive Health

Policymakers across all levels of government continued taking steps to make it easier for people to access contraceptives. In 2023, at least 14 states enacted laws in 2023 to facilitate expanding access to contraceptive care by either expanding the ability for pharmacists to dispense birth control without an individualized prescription and/or allowing pharmacists to dispense up to 12 months of contraceptives at once. So far in 2024, at least 13 jurisdictions considered legislation allowing pharmacists to dispense contraceptives without a prescription and at least 18 states considered legislation supporting access to 12 month supply of contraceptives.

Following FDA’s July 2023 approval of Opill—the first over-the-counter (OTC) birth control pill—the drug is currently available in stores with several major pharmacies and health plans announcing that they will provide the medication at zero cost for many health plan sponsors. To further support access to Opill, at least two states (New Mexico and Wisconsin) issued standing orders for Opill to facilitate Medicaid coverage of the medication. Additionally, Maryland’s legislature passed SB 527 in March 2024, which requires community colleges to develop and implement a plan to provide students access to OTC contraception.

In February 2024, New York enacted S 8096 allowing the commissioner of health to issue a standing order allowing a pharmacist to dispense self-administered hormonal contraceptives, effective retroactively to January 1, 2024. Under the new law, New York’s Commissioner of Health issued a standing order to allow pharmacists to dispense up to 12 months of self-administered hormonal contraceptives like birth control pills, vaginal rings, and contraceptive patches.

Optimal Health for All

ASTHO anticipates policymakers will take steps to improve collection of health disparities data, address inequities rural communities face in accessing care, and to support climate change adaptation planning efforts. So far in the 2024 legislative session, several states are considering bills to improve healthcare access and outcomes in rural areas. California is considering legislation (SB 945) that would build an integrated data dashboard to provide the public with information on the health impacts caused by wildfires and the effectiveness of forest health and wildfire mitigation on health outcomes. Additionally, California (AB 2342) is looking to ensure critical access hospitals on remote islands receive adequate funding through a dedicated annual supplement.

New York is considering at least two bills that would promote rural healthcare access. First, New York S 8582 would create a pilot program to identify rural health zones and convene a rural health zone board to review the community health-care needs, infrastructure, and barriers to care. Second, New York A 9353 would direct the commissioner of health to adjust Medicaid reimbursement for ambulance services in rural communities.

Hawaii considered a bill SB 1238 to improve access to care in rural areas, focusing on expanding broadband internet, providing at-home visits, and ground transportation for medical appointments. These initiatives highlight ongoing efforts to bridge healthcare gaps and improve health outcomes in rural regions.

ASTHO’s state health policy team continues to monitor these important public health issues and will be providing a mid-session update for the remaining five issues to watch—containing the spread of infectious disease, environmental health, workforce, mental health, and tobacco and nicotine products—later this month.