By Andi Johnson
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in unprecedented economic disruption in central Kentucky. Now more than ever, it is critical for the business community to stay connected with elected leaders about recovery needs and advocate for policies at the local, state and federal levels of government that help support businesses and economic growth.
State lawmakers returned to Frankfort in January for the 2021 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. A top priority for legislators is the passage of the second year (FY21-22) budget. For the business community, other top issues for advocacy will be policy reforms to expedite the recovery process, including liability protections, unemployment insurance, broadband service enhancements, education and workforce development, and a focus on our state’s signature industries.
Central Kentucky’s healthcare sector is one of the driving forces of growth and stability in the regional economy. Lexington’s healthcare ecosystem is consistently ranked among the best in North America and the world, while the industry’s constant expansion is evident in hospital and clinic construction. With a large portion of our area’s workforce employed in healthcare fields, good public policy that strengthens and fosters growth in healthcare is important to Kentucky’s economy.
Commerce Lexington Inc.’s 2021 public policy priorities related to healthcare include the following areas:
COVID-19 Liability Protections: Commerce Lexington supports targeted liability reforms to protect Kentucky’s healthcare sector and support workers on the frontlines of battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Commerce Lexington Inc. also supports investments in public health that promote research and development, provide planning protocols for local communities, ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and strengthen the overall healthcare infrastructure.
Healthcare: A healthy workforce is critical to economic productivity: Commerce Lexington advocates for policy reforms that enable employers to provide employees with access to quality, affordable health insurance. Commerce Lexington advocates for changes to federal and state policies that promote greater affordability, increased transparency, more access and increased competition in the marketplace.
Effectively Combat Substance Abuse: Commerce Lexington supports policy efforts to curb the substance abuse epidemic through a comprehensive approach aimed at prevention, treatment and criminal justice reforms. Substance abuse issues are having a negative impact on our workforce, particularly in terms of increased healthcare costs, loss of workforce productivity and fiscal impact of incarceration. The severity of prescription drug abuse, as well as heroin and other illegal street drugs, continues to be a high priority issue for the business community.
Medicaid Sustainability: Kentucky expanded Medicaid eligibility by Executive Order to persons with annual incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($36,156 for a family of three) beginning in January 2014. Currently, there are more than 1.5 million Kentuckians enrolled in Medicaid—more than 35 percent of Kentucky’s total population. Commerce Lexington Inc. supports efforts to create a sustainable Medicaid program to protect critical state investments in education and other vital programs.
Increase the Number of Healthcare Professionals in Kentucky: Commerce Lexington encourages lawmakers to initiate programs and funding or support policies that encourage medical professionals to serve all areas of Kentucky and all Kentuckians.
Reduce Tobacco Usage: Commerce Lexington fully supports raising Kentucky’s cigarette tax on all tobacco and tobacco-related products to be more in line with the national average. We also support tax parity on e-cigarettes equal to the tobacco tax rate on traditional cigarettes. Initiatives should be implemented to reduce smoking by Kentucky residents.
Health & Wellness Programs: Commerce Lexington supports providing incentives to employers creating health and wellness programs for their employees. Health and wellness programs may serve as an effective healthcare cost containment measure and serve to promote personal responsibility among employees for their own health outcomes.
Reasonable Liability Reform: Commerce Lexington supports effective measures to address the escalating costs of healthcare and medical malpractice insurance for health providers, to lower healthcare costs and health insurance premiums and improve access to care. Commerce Lexington supports further reforms, such as a constitutional amendment, that would permit the Legislature to consider comprehensive tort reform.
-Andi Johnson is the Chief Policy Officer and Director of Regional Engagement at Commerce Lexington.