A bill that would enable chiropractors to sign off on student athletes returning to a sport after a head injury won approval in the House on Monday.
Current law allows chiropractors to perform student athletes’ physicals before a sports season and allows them to diagnose concussions on the field, but requires that a medical doctor evaluate and sign off before a student athlete can return to a sport after a head injury.
The bill, HB 2578, passed 73-51 after prompting an intense debate about whether chiropractors have sufficient expertise to make those decisions. It now goes to the Senate.
“Your child. Your child. What do you want that’s best for your child?” asked Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, a retired physician who opposed the bill.
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Bollier said head injuries can have a permanent effect on a person’s brain and that medical researchers are still in the process of understanding the long-term impact of concussions.
Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-Kansas City, echoed this point.
“Some of our heroes have died from these (concussions). Have actually committed suicide,” he said, noting news stories in recent years about former professional athletes suffering from chronic conditions related to concussions.
Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, the House Health chairman, said that just because chiropractors would have the ability to sign off on a student returning to the playing field doesn’t mean they would in every case.
Rep. Dick Jones, R-Topeka, contended that chiropractors are doctors under Kansas law. He said allowing them to make the diagnosis would expand access to rural communities where there may not be an medical doctor.
“Let’s give the communities in the rural areas at least have the chance to have a functioning sports program,” Jones said.
The bill is backed by the Kansas Chiropractors Association and opposed by the Kansas Medical Society and other physicians’ groups.
Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, dismissed the dispute as a “turf war between M.D.s and chiropractors.” He said he was persuaded to support the bill in committee by a high school football coach from western Kansas whose players have to drive to Wichita to find a physician “to sign a piece of paper.”
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City, pushed back on that. She said it concerned more than just the signing of a piece of paper and that it was about having a doctor evaluate the student before letting them play again.
“If it were my child or my grandchild I would gladly drive to … make sure they got the highest care before they return to the playing field,” she said.
Rep. Larry Hibbard, R-Toronto, told an emotional story about a teenage girl he knows who suffered a concussion on the basketball court. A visit to a physician led to the discovery of a mass on her brain – unrelated to the concussion – that was removed in surgery, likely saving her life.
“She’s back playing high school basketball again,” he said.
How they voted
Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on HB 2578, which passed 73-51.
Republicans: All area Republicans voted yes except for Mark Hutton, Leslie Osterman and Chuck Weber of Wichita and Kristey Williams of Augusta, who voted no.
Democrats: All area Democrats voted no except for Tom Sawyer and Brandon Whipple of Wichita and Ed Trimmer of Winfield, who voted yes.