Running off the Enemy
By Joey Berlin Texas Medicine May 2018

The next big step in protecting Texas health care and Texas patients from enemies of medicine comes in the political realm this month.

TEXPAC — the Texas Medical Association’s bipartisan political arm — triumphed in the state primary elections in March. Out of 148 TEXPAC-endorsed candidates, all but 10 won their races and moved on to the general election, a 93-percent success rate. 

In a state where the real races usually occur in the primary, the success of medicine-friendly candidates alleviated many fears about what the Texas Legislature would look like when it reconvenes in 2019.

But every seat counts, and in May, some of medicine’s friends need more help. After failing to get more than 50 percent of the vote in the primaries, they now must dispatch opponents in a head-to-head May 22 runoff. 

 “It’s just all the more evidence that we have to really be strong and be willing to be strategic in putting a lot of money, if we have it, into the important races,” TEXPAC Chair Robert Rogers, MD, said. “We now need to get our membership numbers up to fill the coffers again so that we can reload and have some impact in the runoffs.”

TEXPAC Director Christine Mojezati says many physicians believe the practice of medicine is slipping out of their control, but TEXPAC is trying to show them their professional lives are still in their own hands.

“A lot of them feel like it’s no longer up to them; how they practice medicine is no longer what they say, and it’s so much more about the Austin bureaucrats or insurance companies, hospitals, whatever enemies of medicine you want to name,” she said. “And we’re really trying to push the physicians to let them know, ‘You are still in charge. You still know the best standard of care for your patient. You know what to do. You went to medical school — not this guy in a suit.’”

Candidates who understand that will need help from doctors this month. Early voting for the runoffs will be open May 14-18.

Cosper_TMOliveira_TM

 Key runoffs

Two incumbents TEXPAC endorsed for the March primary are trying to get past this month’s runoff: Rep. Scott Cosper (R-Killeen) (left), and Rep. Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville) (right), chair of the House Committee on Business and Industry.

 Representative Cosper, the leading vote-getter in the House District 54 primary against two other candidates, says “numerous attack mailers and letters” prevented him from getting more than 50 percent of the vote. He supports protecting the integrity of a physician’s scope of practice — which non-medical professionals inevitably try to infringe on when the legislature convenes every odd-numbered year.

“Clearly, we want to protect the patients and make sure that the people providing the care for them have the skill sets necessary, and that we don’t lower the threshold” to allow other types of practitioners to practice medicine, he told Texas Medicine.

Representative Oliveira, who first entered office in 1981, fell just short of avoiding a runoff in District 37, taking 48 percent of the March vote. His long track record as a friend of medicine includes sponsoring the 2013 bill that created what is now The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, which opened in the summer of 2016. He says he’s honored to have the endorsement of the vast majority of physicians in his area.

“I work closely with them on Medicare/Medicaid issues, reimbursement rates, problems that some of them have had with the state agencies that regulate physicians, and generally have recognized that the vast majority of them are working very hard in my area to serve what is essentially a very poor population,” he said. “Our health care industry is booming in the Valley, and our physicians, nurses, and hospitals have had a strong voice with me in the legislature on their behalf.”

TEXPAC is endorsing several other runoff candidates, including:

• Republican Steve Allison, a business attorney running for the House District 121 seat being vacated by current House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio);

• Republican Cody Harris, president of a land and ranch development company running for the seat in Texas House District 8 to succeed longtime Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana); and

• Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), the current occupant of the Texas House District 4 seat running for the U.S. House District 5 seat. 

Representative Gooden is attempting to succeed Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Dallas), one of eight Texans in Congress who are retired, retiring, or seeking higher office. (See “Stepping Aside in DC,” page 43.)

Votes matter

In Texas, more often than not, the winner of the Republican primary is an all-but-certain general election winner, in some cases running in November without Democratic opposition. Dr. Rogers notes that in the Republican races, the house of medicine often faces the same issue: “It’s a typically fairly moderate, reasonable Republican running against one of the extreme tea party, Empower Texans-supported candidates.”

Read more about TEXPAC’s primary victories at www.texmed.org/PrimaryWins/.

Historically, voter turnout in Texas is notoriously low, and March continued that trend. An estimated 1.5 million Republicans and 1 million Democrats cast ballots in the primary. That pales in comparison to the state’s voting-age population, which was nearly 20 million in November. 

But Representative Oliveira’s race demonstrates why even a modest uptick can make a difference.

“In my instance, I only needed 100 votes to avoid a runoff — and I can probably name 100 doctors out there that forgot to vote,” Representative Oliveira said. “So getting them involved, particularly the new doctors that are coming in, is critical. They need to recognize the significance of how the legislature impacts their lives, and not just their pocketbooks. 

“A change in a waiver, or a reimbursement rate, or a regulation, can significantly affect their practices and their ability to provide quality care. So I hope more and more, particularly in my area, will be politically active and be supportive of what the association and the PAC does in supporting qualified candidates that care about the health care industry.”

TEXPAC works to educate physicians on why their votes matter.

“We’re trying to empower doctors, to remind them, ‘You are the physician. You know what’s best, and the only way you can make that statement is to vote for the candidate that’s going to be medicine-friendly,’” Ms. Mojezati said. “If we roll over and die, and let the fringe groups pick everyone in office, then we’re going to have a real problem next session.”

Sidebars

TEXPAC Fights for You

The party of medicine helps protect you and your patients. TEXPAC helps protect your practice through: 

  • Political surveillance — TEXPAC monitors more than 200 legislative and judicial races where the outcome could impact Texas physicians and their practice. 
  • On-the-ground action — TEXPAC works to elect physician-friendly candidates at the state and federal level, meaning the best candidate for the job regardless of political party. That work includes contributions, fundraising, staffing phone banks, block-walks, and mailing brochures and letters.
  • Relationships that last — TEXPAC facilitates relationships with candidates and elected officials that are invaluable to TMA’s lobby efforts.
  • News you can use — TEXPAC continually educates local physician and alliance members on key issues through e-mail and special TEXPAC-member-only seminars and events.

For more information on getting involved in TEXPAC, visit www.texpac.org

 Stepping aside in DC

November will bring significant turnover for Texas’ congressional delegation, with seven Texans in the U.S. House of Representatives retiring outright and one attempting to move to the U.S. Senate. 

Retiring
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Houston)
Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Richardson)
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Dallas)
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Ennis)
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio)
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi, retired April 6)
Rep. Gene Green (D-Houston) 

Seeking higher office
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), running for U.S. Senate

Tex Med. 2018;114(5):40-43
May 2018 Texas Medicine Contents
Texas Medicine Main Page

Last Updated On

February 26, 2019

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Joey Berlin

Associate Editor

(512) 370-1393
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Joey Berlin is associate editor of Texas Medicine. His previous work includes stints as a reporter and editor for various newspapers and publishing companies, and he’s covered everything from hard news to sports to workers’ compensation. Joey grew up in the Kansas City area and attended the University of Kansas. He lives in Austin.

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