TMA Legislative News Hotline: Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015

 TMA IN ACTION

Seven Texas Medical Association physician leaders testified before the Senate Finance Committee today. The committee was examining funding for the state’s health and human services programs.

Athens family physician Doug Curran, MD, vice chair of TMA’s Board of Trustees, testified on behalf of TMA and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians (TAFP). He urged the committee to end a funding cut enacted in 2011 that harmed access to care for thousands of patients dependent on Medicare and Medicaid for their care. These patients are known as “dual eligible.” The Texas Health and Human Services Commission stopped paying the Medicare Part B cost-sharing on physician services for dual-eligible patients if what Medicare pays for a service exceeds what Texas Medicaid pays, which is almost always the case. “The cut was a devastating financial blow to any physician who cares for this population, but absolutely catastrophic to those practices in border, rural, or inner-city communities where higher numbers of dual-eligible patients reside,” said Dr. Curran.

Edinburg pediatrician Martin Garza, MD, testified on behalf of TMA, the Texas Pediatric Society (TPS), TAFP, and the Federation of Texas Psychiatry. He urged committee members to improve Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) patients’ access to needed services by enacting competitive physician payments in these programs. Dr. Garza asked the committee to act boldly by supporting these four TMA priorities:

  • Reinstate the Medicaid-to-Medicare parity payments for primary care physicians (PCPs). For the past two years, PCPs received the higher payments as a result of federal funding. But the payments expired Dec. 31, 2014.
  • Extend the parity payments for primary care to services provided through CHIP.
  • Establish competitive Medicaid and CHIP payment rates for physician specialties not included in the Medicaid-to-Medicare parity increase.
  • Reverse the 8-percent payment reduction for physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses practicing under physician supervision.

Dallas psychiatrist Les Secrest, MD, past chair of TMA’s Council on Legislation, took the stand on behalf of TMA, TPS, and the Federation of Texas Psychiatry. He asked committee members to support the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) funding requests related to mental health and substance abuse prevention, early intervention, and treatment. “Investing in mental health services ultimately pays for itself through reduced incarceration and emergency department costs,” he explained. Dr. Secrest chairs TMA’s new Task Force on Behavioral Health.

A member of TMA’s Committee on Infectious Disease, Philip Huang, MD, MPH, also testified on behalf of TMA, TPS, and TAFP. He asked committee members to support three important exceptional items in DSHS’ budget to improve the health of all Texans. They are (1) continued funding for Texas’ tobacco cessation activities such as the DSHS Texas Quitline; (2) additional funds to increase DSHS’ capacity to investigate and respond to infectious disease outbreaks; and (3) more funds to support and expand DSHS’ community-based projects that promote physical activity and healthy eating to reduce chronic disease, and community projects to help reduce costly preventable hospitalizations. Dr. Huang is the medical director and health authority for the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department.

Janet Realini, MD, MPH, chair of the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition (TWHC), was on hand to ask lawmakers to support the additional $50 million in funding for women’s health care services to ensure women have access to physicians and other health care providers. Dr. Realini explained how Texas’ women’s health programs currently can serve fewer than three in 10 of the women in need.

Lewis Foxhall, MD, member of TMA’s Board of Trustees, was a resource witness for MD Anderson at the Senate Finance Committee today to discuss the importance of the DSHS Quitline. Joel Dunnington, MD, a former member of TMA’s Council on Public Health,also was on hand to testify in support of the Quitline.

BE YOUR OWN LOBBYIST

Register today for First Tuesdays at the Capitol March 3. Join your colleagues at the state Capitol to meet with your state lawmakers. The “White Coat Invasion” has been the key to physicians’ successes in the Texas Legislature since the inception of First Tuesdays at the Capitol in 2003. Our influence is greater when physicians and alliance members arrive en masse in the House and Senate galleries.

PHYSICIAN OF THE DAY

 The physician of the day at the Capitol is Katherine Lincoln, DO, of Nolanville. Dr. Lincoln graduated from New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is a member of the Bell County Medical Society.

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