The Texas Medical Association is pushing for the state legislature to grant physicians a long-overdue pay bump for seeing Medicaid patients.
But that effort — TMA President Doug Curran’s foremost priority for the 2019 session — will require a serious financial commitment, the new chair of the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee told physicians at TMA’s Winter Conference.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) talked about the dollars involved in Medicaid, and also touched on several of medicine’s other legislative priorities during her presentation Saturday morning at the Hyatt Regency Austin.
Senator Kolkhorst, who replaced Sen. Charles Schwertner, MD (R-Georgetown) this year as Health and Human Services chair, noted the Senate’s proposed budget allocates nearly $85 billion for health and human services overall.
“And let me just say, as we increase Medicaid rates to … pay you more, just a little bit costs hundreds of millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars,” she said. “And it frustrates me, because I look at some of the reimbursement rates that you receive, and I go, ‘Gosh, that’s just not enough. It’s simply not enough.’ But to move the needle, it’s billions and billions of dollars. We’re not going to stop trying.”
Some of the other topics Senator Kolkhorst addressed included:
Insurance reform — Senator Kolkhorst told physicians insurance reform needs to be patient-friendly, calling the current system opaque, difficult, and frustrating. “I’m tired of the billions of dollars that we see go in a different direction instead of going to real patient care,” Senator Kolkhorst said, prompting applause. “Maybe it’s just being 54, a mom, a businesswoman; I’m ready to blow the smoke out of the room. And it won’t happen overnight. But I think that the American people are demanding better.”
Rural hospitals — The senator said hospitals are shuttering their doors at an alarming rate in rural Texas, with 19 rural hospitals in the state closing permanently or temporarily since 2013. “I know of two more in my district that are possibly going to close before session closes,” she said. Also noting that Baylor Scott & White had recently announced the closing of its labor and delivery unit in her hometown of Brenham, she asked for physicians’ help in solving problems with rural hospitals and general access to care. “If Brenham, Texas, cannot deliver a baby, we have an issue,” she said.
Maternal mortality — A former chair of the House Public Health Committee, where her focuses included maternal health, Senator Kolkhorst cited the Texas Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM) program, which works to establish best practices in hospitals and improve maternal birth outcomes. She noted an budget request to fully implement the AIM program, and said the legislature also will be working on some “intriguing” bills this session to provide postpartum women with “some wraparound services that shepherd them through the months after birth.”
Graduate medical education (GME) — The base Senate budget bill proposal provides robust GME funding, Senator Kolkhorst said. She added that there will be more attempts to create new medical schools in Texas, which will be hotly debated. “There is a point, I want you all to know, that we need to stop building medical schools and continue to build GME,” she said.