Women’s Health Caucus chairs ask Gov. Wolf to veto S.B. 857

HARRISBURG, April 22 The Democratic chairs of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus have sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf asking him to veto S.B. 857. The letter was signed by Reps. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, and Morgan Cephas, D-Phila., who are chairwoman and vice chairwoman, respectively, of the WHC, as well as Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, also chairwoman.

The original intent of S.B. 857 was to expand the use of telemedicine; however, it is the view of the Women’s Health Caucus that the bill that passed the House and Senate mostly along party lines this week would be harmful to women’s health.

“This legislation is not needed right now and would restrict the use of telemedicine for 58 different medications that are prescribed for many different reasons, not just abortion,” Daley said.

The bill would prohibit the use of telemedicine to prescribe drugs on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy list as of July 1, 2019. This would prohibit the ability of Pennsylvania physicians to prescribe drugs through telemedicine that may be removed from the REMS list at a later date.

This means that, as drugs, testing capabilities and care delivery improve, these medications would be safe to provide via telemedicine but still prohibited in Pennsylvania.

Among the 58 medications currently on the REMS list are suboxone and buprenorphine, two key drugs in providing medically assisted treatment crucial in combatting the opioid crisis. The list also includes mifepristone, which is used to provide reproductive health care for women without access to a physical health care facility.

The authors of the letter to Wolf argue that excluding the above and other medicines would severely limit health care options for women and those fighting addiction.

“Playing politics with women’s health is something we’ve come to expect of the majority party in Harrisburg,” Cephas said. “But playing politics now is truly appalling when it’s critical that we connect patients with their doctors safely to ensure they can still receive the quality care and assistance they need during this pandemic.

“The purpose of this legislation is to expand access to a critical resource during a time of crisis. It's unacceptable that members of the majority party used this as another attempt to restrict a woman's right to choose."

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Resources and the federal government have allowed telemedicine in a safe and measured approach during the current COVID-19 pandemic, an action the Women’s Health Caucus applauds.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Director Seema Verma has also expressed her belief that federal regulations for telemedicine may change post-pandemic. Because of this, members of the Women’s Health Caucus believe now is not the time to enact state statutes.