Lawmaker: Panel couldn’t reach consensus on drug legislation

FILE - In this April 21, 2015 file photo, signs are displayed for the needle exchange program at the Austin Community Outreach Center, in Austin, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A panel that reviewed Indiana’s fledgling needle-exchange program couldn’t agree on additional steps to combat the state’s drug abuse woes, although measures targeting those problems are still in the works, the leader of the legislative study committee said Tuesday.

Republican Sen. Patricia Miller of Indianapolis said after the public health policy committee’s final meeting that its members considered various proposals, including tightening some penalties for drug-related crimes, but could not settle on legislation to recommend to lawmakers.

“We just didn’t have a consensus on what we should do,” she said.

Miller said, however, that she and other lawmakers as well as Gov. Mike Pence’s office, the attorney general and others are drafting drug-related bills for the legislative session that starts in January.

In April, state lawmakers approved a law giving Indiana’s health commissioner authority to approve local needle-exchange programs as part of a response to an HIV outbreak centered in southern Indiana’s Scott County that’s tied to needle-sharing among intravenous drug users.

To date, Scott, Fayette and Madison counties have obtained the health commissioner’s approval for those programs, which provide IV drug users with clean syringes and collect used ones to help prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

Rep. Charlie Brown, a Gary Democrat who’s a committee member, said he plans to sponsor legislation that would allow any Indiana community to start a needle-exchange program without the state health commissioner’s approval.

He said officials in some of Indiana’s most populous counties, including in his home of Lake County, should be able to act on their own to start needle exchanges to combat the spread of diseases.

“We certainly need to make it uniform across the state,” Brown said. “We need to go ahead and deal with it.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, the committee did endorse legislation that would require insurance companies to report to Indiana’s insurance agency the number of customer claims they deny each year. The committee voted 14-2 to recommend a bill that would have insurance companies report on a quarterly basis the number of accident and health claims each has rejected.

Miller said insurance companies currently have to report to the Indiana Department of Insurance the number of insurance claim denials that consumers appeal. She said the bill she’s drafted is a response to consumers she and other lawmakers have heard from who contend that their insurance claims were “inappropriately denied.”

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