UNDER THE ROTUNDA
With House bills now being referred to committees, the pace of activity is rapidly accelerating.
Yesterday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the House Human Services Committee, and the House Insurance Committee held their kickoff hearings, which are traditionally organizational in nature.
However, Senate Health and Human Services got right down to business, hearing testimony on Senate Bill 10 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), which will create the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium. Senator Nelson said her bill focuses on identifying at-risk youth and helping them before they become a danger to themselves or others. She repeatedly mentioned the Santa Fe school shooting last year.
“It’s horrifying to me that children in our schools need to worry about things like that,” she said.
The committee unanimously approved the bill, which will next get a reading and hearing on the Senate floor.
Additionally, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article II (which covers health and human services) continued to hear public testimony, including from two TMA members:
- James Lukefahr, MD, a pediatrician from San Antonio, asked the legislature to increase funding for two Department of State Health Services (DSHS) programs that address and prevent child abuse, neglect, and fatality.
- Thomas Kim, MD, an Austin psychiatrist and member of the TMA Council on Legislation, urged legislators to fully fund DSHS and especially to safeguard the State Public Health Laboratory, highlighting its importance of testing highly contagious diseases, such as mumps and measles cases that are spreading across Texas.
- The Texas Medical Association and the Texas Pediatric Society submitted written testimony encouraging full funding of the Department of Family and Protective Services’ prevention and early intervention programs.
The Texas Immunization Partnership (TIP), with whom TMA collaborates, delivered alarming statistics on deaths and the costs associated with inadequate vaccinate rates. Rekha Lakshmanan, TIP’s director of advocacy and public policy, implored the subcommittee to fund a robust vaccination program in Texas. Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) thanked Ms. Lakshmanan for TIP’s “continued science-based voice on vaccine advocacy.”
Today, TMA submitted written testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article I (general government) urging the legislature to allocate all available appropriated funds for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and to make provisions for CPRIT’s continued funding and grant-making ability.
Senator Nelson and Rep. John Zerwas, MD (R-Richmond) have authored bills in their respective chambers that would increase the maximum bond amount authorized for CPRIT and remove time limitations on CPRIT grants.
The House and Senate both adjourned until Tuesday.
Four weeks into session, bill filing is not slowing as the March 8 filing deadline nears. The current count is more than 2,600 bills filed. TMA is monitoring more than 555 of them — in keeping with previous sessions’ rates of more than 20 percent of all bills filed. Just three weeks remain for bills to be filed.
BILLS OF NOTE
This list will change frequently during the session, but here are some bills we’re watching now. Keep an eye on your email inbox for Action Alerts as we work to pass or kill bills.
- House Bill 1256 by Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) would permit verification of first responders’ immunization status during a disaster.
- House Bill 1490 by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) would make immunization exemptions more convenient and prohibit DSHS from tracking exemptions. TMA opposes this bill.
- Senate Bill 524 by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) expands access to Medicaid.
- Senate Bill 752 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) affords health care worker volunteers liability protection in a disaster.
HEALTHY VISION 2025
Healthy Vision 2025 — released late last month — is TMA’s all-inclusive, health care roadmap for legislators.
Want to help spread and promote TMA’s Healthy Vision for Texas? Become a TMA social media ambassador.
TODAY’S GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY TIP
Nothing drives home the importance of an issue like a personal story. When calling or writing your legislators, tell them specifically how the issue affects you, your colleagues, and patients. (Students can offer credible anecdotes from their own medical school experiences.) This is the best way to persuade lawmakers that what may seem like an abstract or arcane point really affects their constituents deeply. Get more tips in our Grassroots Advocacy Guide.
ARE YOU A LEGISLATIVE JUNKIE?
If talk of bills and committees and backroom deals initiate tachycardia, you might want to join TMA Leading Advocates. It’s TMA’s exclusive Facebook group for legislative advocacy. Enjoy special features, news in advance, and a community of TMA members who are excited to talk about the Texas Legislature and medicine's advocacy priorities. This closed group is open only to TMA and TMA Alliance members, and TMA and county medical society staff. Join today.
TMA’s 2019 legislative agenda includes priorities to help advance patient care in Texas.
Top on the list are the state budget, insurance reform, scope of practice, maternal health, the Texas Medical Board and Medical Practice Act, and public health.
TMA member physicians and medical students, and TMA Alliance members play a significant role in advancing medicine’s priorities at the Capitol. Here are some ways you can help:
- Register for First Tuesdays at the Capitol – there are three left;
- Testify before a House or Senate committee;
- Learn more about TEXPAC, TMA’s bipartisan political action committee;
- When called to do so, respond to Grassroots Action Center alerts on specific bills via our new VoterVoice app; and/or
- Make sure you receive TMA’s Legislative News Hotline each day, via Texas Medicine Today. Here’s how: Just log in to the Edit My Interests page on your TMA profile. Ensure you get all the legislative updates by selecting "Health care issues in the Texas Legislature" as one of your Grassroots and Advocacy interests. TMA’s updates on the latest bills affecting medicine will arrive in your inbox as part of Texas Medicine Today at 2 pm each day lawmakers convene at the Capitol throughout Texas’ 86th legislative session.
PHYSICIAN OF THE DAY
Physician of the Day is a service the Texas Academy of Family Physicians (TAFP) provides the Texas Legislature. Each day the legislators are in session, the group names a physician to serve in the Capitol. This tradition started in 1971 and has continued every legislative session since, including special sessions.
Today’s physician of the day is Bich-May Nguyen, MD, of Houston. Dr. Nguyen graduated from the Baylor College of Medicine and is a member of the Fort Bend County Medical Society.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Voters in four states have approved Medicaid expansion by ballot. Will Texas do the same? – The Texas Tribune
Coalition of insurance, business and consumer groups want patients protected from surprise bills – Houston Chronicle
Thousands of Texans were shocked by surprise medical bills. Their requests for help overwhelmed the state. – The Texas Tribune
Nearly 1 in 7 US kids and teens has a mental health condition, and half go untreated, study says – CNN
Dallas County Appoints New Health Director – KTVT-TV
Healthcare spending for employer plans hits record – Modern Healthcare
New Rules Could Ease Patients’ Access to Their Own Health Records – The Wall Street Journal
Is a Level 1 Trauma Center in the Future for the Rio Grande Valley – KVEO-TV
ICE Confirms 6 More Cases of Mumps in Houston Area Detention Facilities – Houston Public Media