How will new laws affect county?

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, January 10, 2024

When the calendar turned to 2024, several new laws took effect across the commonwealth. So how do they affect people here in Lunenburg County? The answer is in several ways. The new laws expand tax exemptions for veterans, provide pay increases for teachers statewide, add continuity of care protection for the insured and mandate coverage for minors’ hearing aids.

Retired veterans of all ages will now be afforded tax exemptions for military retirement pay, a change approved in the state budget and signed into law Oct. 13 by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

The original exemption enacted in 2022 only provided the tax exemption on veterans’ retirement pay for those age 55 and older. As part of the state budget, the age requirement was lifted

Daniel Gade, commissioner of Virginia Department of Veterans Services, said this expanded tax exemption will make Virginia a more appealing place for the thousands of active-duty service members who retire each year to make Virginia their permanent home.

According to the Military Officers Association of America, the first $30,000 of military retirement pay for Virginia veterans is exempt in tax year 2024, that increases to $40,000 in 2025 and beyond. 

“As governor, I’m working to make Virginia the No. 1 state in America for veterans and military retirees to live, work and raise a family,” Youngkin said at a Patriots Day event last fall.

RAISING TEACHER PAY

The state budget signed into law Sept. 14 by Youngkin includes funding for a 2% pay increase for Virginia’s teachers and other school staff who are covered by the state’s Standards of Quality.

This is in addition to a 5% pay increase for teachers approved by lawmakers in July as part of the state budget.

CONTINUITY OF CARE

A new law that was sponsored by Del. Robert D. Orrock Sr., R-Thornburg, provides new protection for patients when insurance carriers drop health care providers from their list of providers covered by their plan.

“HB2354 ensures that when an insurance carrier and a health care provider have terminated their contract that the patient will have a longer period of continued service and an assurance of continued health care in certain medical circumstances, such as pregnancy or long-term convalescence,” Orrock said on his blog.

According to the Legislative Information System, insurance carriers must establish procedures for notifying an enrollee of:

• The termination from the carrier’s provider panel of a provider who was furnishing health care services to the enrollee or furnished health care services to the enrollee in the six months prior to the notice.

• The right of an enrollee upon request to continue to receive health care services as provided in the bill following the provider’s termination from a carrier’s provider panel. 

The LIS summary explains it requires the carrier to provide such notices prior to the date of the termination of the provider except when a provider is terminated for cause. It also removes separate notice requirements for the termination of a primary care provider or a specialty referral services provider.

Under the new law, a patient’s doctor is allowed to continue providing care for at least 90 days from the date of a provider’s termination from the carrier’s provider panel, except when a provider is terminated for cause. It also provides longer coverage protections for a pregnant patient, a person suffering from a life-threatening condition and an insured who is admitted and receiving treatment at any inpatient facility.

HEARING AIDS FOR MINORS

As of Jan. 1, health insurance companies are now mandated to provide coverage for hearing aids for minors. Under the legislation approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor, health care coverage must include coverage for hearing aids and related services for children 18 years of age or younger when an otolaryngologist recommends such hearing aids and related services. 

The coverage must include one hearing aid per hearing-impaired ear, up to a cost of $1,500, every 24 months, according to the Legislative Information System summary. 

STATE JOINS COUNSELING COMPACT

A new law requires Virginia to become part of the Counseling Compact, which includes 28 states, allowing licensed professional counselors making their licenses valid in all member states. As part of the state’s efforts to improve access to behavioral health services, the change enacted under House Bill 1433 permits eligible licensed professional counselors to practice in compact member states, provided that they are licensed in at least one member state, according to the Legislative Information System.

The Counseling Compact is an interstate compact, or a contract among states, allowing professional counselors licensed and residing in a compact member state to practice in other compact member states without need for multiple licenses, according to the organization’s website.

“The compact will help clients by improving continuity of care when clients or counselors travel or relocate,” the organization states on its website. “The compact will help the public by ensuring that member states rapidly share investigative and disciplinary information and cooperate in investigations of misconduct by practitioners, when necessary.”

FOSTER CARE, ADOPTION FLEXIBILITY

Home studies conducted for foster care and adoption of children can now be shared statewide under legislation sponsored by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, that was approved by the 2023 General Assembly and signed by Youngkin last year.

“This will reduce barriers and streamline existing processes to help more children be adopted or be placed in nurturing foster homes,” Carr said in a blog post.

Beginning Jan. 1, these reports prepared on prospective foster or adoptive parents are transferable between all localities, local boards and licensed child-placing agencies within the commonwealth at the request of the families involved.

The home studies, handled by a licensed social worker, look at the lifestyle, living situation and adoption readiness of families interested in fostering or adopting children. The legislation also requires that these reports comply with the Mutual Family Assessment home study template and institutes market rates for the studies to be set by the State Board of Social Services.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA MOVE

At the start of 2024, oversight of Virginia’s medical cannabis program moved from the Board of Pharmacy to the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority.

The CCA is authorized to grant, suspend, restrict, revoke, or refuse to grant or renew any license or permit issued or authorized to dispense medical marijuana.

“The CCA is committed to the well-being of medical cannabis patients, and our goal is to ensure they experience minimal disruption during this transition,” said Jeremy Preiss, acting head and chief officer of regulatory, policy and external affairs at the authority. “We understand medical cannabis can be a vital source of relief for patients experiencing negative health conditions, so we are committed to making medical cannabis accessible to those who need it.”CCA said in a news release announcing the changes that those interested in becoming a medical cannabis patient in Virginia must reside in Virginia, be at least 18, have a valid government-issued ID and “be certified, upon examination by a licensed practitioner, as having a medical condition that could benefit from the use of cannabis.”

Those who meet these requirements can receive a written or electronic certification from a practitioner to obtain medical cannabis. A patient can take this to an authorized medical cannabis dispensary to purchase medical cannabis products with a valid ID.

The state has not yet enacted measures allowing retail sales of marijuana products. State law was changed in 2021 to allow cultivation of up to four marijuana plants for personal use by anyone 21 or older and made public possession of up to one ounce of cannabis legal.