RAM worries that language in bill will kill free clinics in Virginia

Update: Del. Terry Kilgore Tuesday presented an amended version of the bill before a Senate panel that addressed the concerns of the RAM Clinic. The Senate Education and Health's subcommittee on health professions advanced the bill. Kilgore said the bill was intended to give out-of-state dentists the same ability as doctors to practice for three days in Virginia at charity clinics.

Remote Area Medical, which brings free health, dental and vision care to Virginians, said its clinics could be in jeopardy if a bill before a Virginia Senate committee on Tuesday becomes law.

As written, the legislation could prevent RAM and any other charitable clinic from operating in Virginia, RAM spokesman Robert Lambert said.

Lambert sent an email blast Monday asking for people to spread the word that Del. Terry Kilgore’s bill, HB 2184, could harm the charitable clinics. RAM works with local partners to bring the clinics to areas with a large number of people who lack the means to pay for health care. Its largest clinic, held each summer on the Wise County fairgrounds, attracts specialists from all over. Its smaller clinics provide mostly basic medical care, along with dental and vision care that often draw the longest lines.

Lambert said RAM had reached out to Kilgore about its concerns but hadn’t heard back from him.

Kilgore said that he introduced the bill as a way to help attract more dentists and that the language could change.

The bill is on the Senate’s health profession subcommittee for Tuesday.

The bill would scratch the part in the state code that allows practitioners licensed in other states to temporarily practice in Virginia during charitable clinics. The language is replaced with a passage that is written to do the same thing, but uses the language “all-volunteer, nonprofit organizations.”

Lambert said that could disqualify RAM and any other charitable clinic that has at least one paid employee.

He also is concerned about two other language changes. Current law allows out-of-state practitioners to volunteer in Virginia for three days before notifying the Board of Medicine. Kilgore’s bill, he said, appears to give this only to dentists.

Also, the rewrite to the legislation flips the language to say the board “may” issue a special volunteer license.

“Thus, if there is anyone on the board who is disinclined for whatever reason to restrict or even prohibit certain or all nonprofits from providing such out-of-state volunteer services with out-of-state licensed professionals, the board could do so under this new law,” he said in an email.

Staff writer Amy Friedenberger contributed to this story.

[This story was originally published by The Roanoke Times.]