The roller coaster that's been the Texas Legislature's 2017 summer special session roared full-speed into the station Friday, ending a wild ride for the Texas Medical Board (TMB) and worried Texas physicians.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed bills extending the life of TMB and the Medical Practice Act on Aug. 11, just hours after they reached his desk. Both would have vanished Sept. 1 without legislative action. The Texas Medical Association thanked the governor and lawmakers for "standing up for medicine and patient care."
Both the House and the Senate passed identical versions of the bills during the early days of the special session, but neither took any action on the other's bills for several weeks. The logjam broke Aug. 7, when the House State Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill 20 (which extends the life of TMB) and the House Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 60 (which provides funding for the agency). With no debate, discussion, or amendments, the full House of Representatives gave the bills speedy preliminary approval Aug. 10 and final approval Aug. 11. Governor Abbott signed them shortly thereafter.
"Thanks to the passage of this critical legislation, Texas will now be able to continue to license new doctors and regulate the practice of medicine," the governor said. "As the first order of business on my special session call, these bills were necessary in keeping important state agencies running and keeping Texans healthy."
TMA President Carlos J. Cardenas, MD, quickly released thank-you statements on the TMA website and in a video message.
"The Texas Medical Association thanks Gov. Greg Abbott for placing the Medical Practice Act and TMB sunset renewal on the legislative special session call," Dr. Cardenas said. "We also thank Texas lawmakers for answering that call and passing these laws overwhelmingly to ensure Texans can continue to receive the best patient care possible from their physicians."
The 85th Texas Legislature returned to Austin nearly a month ago for the special session. Starting with the TMB sunset bill, the governor identified 21 priorities for consideration — all reprised from the regular session that ended May 29.
Without legislative action, TMB would have begun a wind-down period beginning Sept. 1, and the Medical Practice Act would have ceased to exist on that date.
TMA launched a "Texas Health Care Doomsday Countdown Calendar" awareness campaign on Aug. 7 to spur legislators to take action and let the public know about the dire and shocking crisis ahead for our state had the legislature failed to pass a sunset continuation bill for TMB:
- Without licenses, doctors wouldn't have been able to prescribe medicine and order all needed tests, or practice in hospitals or other facilities that require a state medical license.
- With no legal definition of what it takes to be a physician, anyone could have opened up shop and called himself or herself a doctor. The public would have been exposed to and unprotected from medical quackery.
- Texas, which already has a physician shortage, could have lost some of its doctors to other states.
"Thank you for standing up for medicine and patient care," Dr. Cardenas said after the bills became law.
Action, Aug. 15, 2017