Charting Medicine’s Statehouse Progress: A Successful Legislative Session for Physicians
By Joey Berlin Texas Medicine August 2019

Aug_19_TM_CoverStory

Legislation is just one piece of a healthy Texas. But it’s a big piece, and when the Texas Medical Association told the lawmakers of 2019 how it should fit, those legislators largely shaped it to what physicians and patients need. Here are some highlights.

Insurance: Network Solutions
Public Health: Tobacco Triumph
Education: Planning for Growth
TMB: Back on Track
Opioids and Pharmacy: PMP Extension Granted
Medicaid: Reforms, But No Raise
Scope of Practice: Shot Down

Medicine's Legislative Wins at a Glance

TMA scored on a wide range of goals to improve the state’s medical landscape during this year’s session of the Texas Legislature. In public health, the house of medicine convinced lawmakers that raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21 was the right thing for the state’s present and future. Medicine also successfully persuaded the legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott to improve insurance network adequacy and directories, which will help with surprise medical bills.

Insurers’ prior authorization tactics – which infuriate physicians and delay or derail patients’ access to needed services and medications – took several damaging hits in the form of TMA-backed bills that became law. And the 2020-21 budget includes a number of vital funding increases, including a $52 million increase for women’s health programs, an added $60 million to preserve the state’s healthy ratio of graduate medical education (GME) slots to medical school graduates, and $50 million more for community mental health services.

Those were just a few of the big wins medicine and its friends delivered, and they helped to offset the disappointments, such as the legislature failing to grant the long-overdue Medicaid physician payment increase that TMA requested.

“On the whole, it was a good session for us,” said Fort Worth-area pediatrician Jason Terk, MD, who chaired TMA’s Council on Legislation throughout the session. “We got a lot of good things done and we can be proud of our advocacy for the progress we wanted to make in public health, mental health, women’s health, and GME funding, just to name a few. I am also very proud of our advocacy defending against bills that would have been harmful to our patients and us, the physicians who care for them.”

TMA chief lobbyist Darren Whitehurst emphasized that success at the Capitol starts with medicine’s grassroots efforts, including the work physician advocates do during TMA’s monthly First Tuesdays at the Capitol. But he stressed that the work continues even after the legislature adjourns.

“Really, we don’t have a lot of time to look back. We’ve got to continue to look forward. We’re going to have a busy interim building on the relationships and the work that we did this past session, and looking forward to the next legislative session,” Mr. Whitehurst said. “The issues that we face are a lot of the same issues from session to session. We’ve got to be committed to trying to move forward and to making sure that our doctors are engaged and are involved as part of a political process.”

Tex Med. 2019;115(8):16-24 
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Last Updated On

October 08, 2019

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Joey Berlin

Associate Editor

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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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