Legislators Try to Avert Veto of Psychologist Prescriber Bill
Gov. Kate Brown has threatened to veto House Bill 3355, which would allow psychologists to prescribe psychotropic medications, but a trio of legislative healthcare leaders who work to pass the bill are still hoping to change her mind.
“I spoke to Gov. Brown yesterday that vetoing the bill would be a terrible mistake,” said Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, the chairman of the House Health Committee. “I wasn’t surprised but I was very unhappy. We worked that bill so long and it’s got all these safeguards wired in.”
Gov. Ted Kulongoski vetoed a similar bill in 2010, but advocates hoped more thorough vetting of the policy this time would overcome opposition from the psychiatrist lobby.
A veto from Brown would likely be the death knell for the policy, which its advocates believe would help improve both the quality of care and access to psychiatric medications. Oregon doesn’t have enough psychiatrists, and their numbers are dwindling.
HB 3355 offered a potential solution, training and empowering psychologists to prescribe medications, since they are already experts in mental health and diagnosis. They would only be allowed to prescribe the medications in a medical clinic, working with a team of other healthcare professionals, such as medical doctors and nurse practitioners.
“I share the concerns about inadequate services that arose during the debate on this bill, particularly for children, vulnerable populations, and rural communities,” Brown said when announcing her potential veto on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, this is not a proven solution. There remains a lack of evidence that psychologist prescribing will improve access or quality of care. While prescription drugs may be appropriate mental health treatment for some patients, there are also significant health risks with some drug therapies.”
Most psychiatric medications are currently handed out by primary care practitioners, who have very little training in mental health or diagnoses. “They are not experts in diagnosis or mental health, yet they are making the bulk of the psychiatric prescriptions,” said Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Canby, a retired psychologist.
The bill was partly modeled after laws in other states, which have allowed psychologists to prescribe medicine with few issues.
Kennemer and Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, met with Brown on Thursday, hoping to persuade her to let the bill become law. Kennemer noted that it does not take effect until July 2018, giving opponents the chance to request any corrective fixes in the February 2018 short session. “I was absolutely shocked this afternoon when I got a call from her staff.”
The Canby Republican said the meeting with the governor was inconclusive but he had not given up hope on the legislation. “She listened carefully. She asked some good questions. We’ll have to see where it goes from here.”
The bill breezed through the House with just Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, and Rep. Paul Evans, D-Salem, in opposition. But in late June, the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association reported spending $48,500 to hire three more lobbyists to kill the bill.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, who had been a sponsor, announced her opposition, and the bill passed the Senate on a 18-11 vote -- short of the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override. Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, also circulated a letter from the psychiatrists’ lobby, noting their opposition, which they said was built on the fact that psychologists do not have their same extensive knowledge of the human body.
Monnes Anderson circulated her own lobby letter, which was endorsed by the Oregon Nurses Association, the Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems, and Providence Health & Services, which enlisted psychiatrists to testify in support of the bill.
Reach Chris Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.