To TEXPAC, red or blue isn’t part of the equation. It’s all about the white coats.
Each election, TEXPAC, the Texas Medical Association’s nonpartisan political arm, throws its support behind candidates who have demonstrated their support for a medicine-friendly agenda. TEXPAC carefully vets candidates and makes endorsements based on candidate interviews, local physician support, and analyses of the contested races. A TEXPAC-backed horse is a winning one more often than not: For example, in this year’s primary and runoff elections, TEXPAC endorsed more than 130 candidates, with 98% ultimately emerging victorious.
While the presidential election is the headliner on the ballot this year, TEXPAC concentrates its efforts at the state level, knowing the Texas Legislature is where policy can most easily make or break the state of patient care and physician practice in the Lone Star State.
“As we approach November elections it is critical physicians stay engaged with candidates. TEXPAC vets all candidates to determine which ones will support medicine’s issues from vaccines to protecting our independence,” said TEXPAC Chair Brad Patt, MD. “This election is critical to our cause.”
Here’s a look at four medicine-friendly incumbents in the legislature who face tough races in their districts to keep their seats in November. By TEXPAC’s metric, all four earned a perfect 100% score when it comes to voting with medicine. (For the complete list of TEXPAC’s 2020 endorsements as of late August, visit www.texpac.org/endorsements.)
Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) - District 134 in central Houston
Running for a sixth term in the House, Representative Davis has made health care a priority since her initial run in 2010, which came months after her last radiation treatment for breast cancer diagnosed in 2008.
“I felt very passionate about health care, but I obviously have the perspective [of] a patient. I was very interested in being a part of health care policy solutions for the state of Texas,” she told Texas Medicine. “That’s why I ran, and since I’ve been in the legislature, that’s pretty much been my sole focus.”
During her legislative career, she has spent time on the House Committee on Public Health, and in the 2019 session she was chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the state’s health and human services budget. One of her key assists for medicine a year ago was providing House sponsorship for Senate Bill 748 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which expanded pregnancy medical home pilot programs to new sites and directed the state to test the use of telemedicine, telehealth, and telemonitoring to improve postpartum care.
Her legislative priorities have included issues like early childhood intervention, newborn screening, and sustaining the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). In November 2019, voters approved $3 billion in additional funding for CPRIT, keeping its doors open for an estimated 10 more years.
“I try to really focus on things that I can create environments for healthy outcomes for women and children. Being the state rep for the Texas Medical Center [in Houston], CPRIT is obviously a very important agency. So I worked very hard in getting CPRIT extended,” she said. “Since I represent more physicians than any other state representative, I tend to be very watchful about scope of practice issues. I try to make sure that nonphysicians are not creeping into the practice of medicine.”
Growing opposition to vaccines, and the rising number of conscientious exemptions in Texas, are personal to Representative Davis because of her own story: “We have a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer. It blows my mind as a cancer survivor why any parent would want to deny their child that kind of lifesaving vaccine.” And while Medicaid expansion is often perceived a party-line issue – Democrats are generally seen as for it, most Republicans against it – Representative Davis says she’ll be filing legislation for expansion in 2021.
“I’m hopeful that we can have a productive, nonpartisan conversation about the need to expand Medicaid going into the next session,” Representative Davis said. She noted the pending expiration of the 1115 Healthcare Transformation and Quality Improvement Program waiver, a key source of Medicaid funding that will expire after September 2022 unless the state receives an extension.
“We’re really looking at a perfect storm, so to speak, in health care,” she said, “[such] that if there’s ever a time to have a conversation to really look at the benefits and the need for Medicaid expansion, I think it’s got to be now.”
Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Addison) - District 115 north of Dallas
TEXPAC’s support for Representative Johnson’s initial run in 2018 was based in part on the prospect of adding to the Capitol’s Family of Medicine. Married to Fort Worth gastroenterologist Susan Moster, DO, the Dallas-area attorney has had a front-row seat to the challenges physicians face, including COVID-19’s impact on the medical community.
During her first session at the Capitol in 2019, she came up big for medicine by sponsoring Senate Bill 1742 on the House side, which required health plan directories to clearly identify in-network physicians, including by specialty.
She also was a strong proponent of expanding telemedicine, and she’ll be on board with TMA’s planned push to make telemedicine’s expanded role permanent when the Legislature convenes next year.
“That’s one of the things COVID has highlighted, is the need for telemedicine and the efficacy of telemedicine,” Representative Johnson said. “One of the benefits of telemedicine, at least from the stories I’m told at home, physicians are actually able to spend a little bit longer time than [before] with their patients. … Telemedicine is a wonderful tool, especially for routine medicine management and [all] sorts of things. Because patients sometimes are far away. We have rural health obstacles in terms of access to care. And COVID has really opened the mind to telemedicine, it’s opened the experience of telemedicine, for patients and for lawmakers to realize that it is an effective tool in the toolbox.”
Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) - District 108 in north-
During the 2019 session, Representative Meyer helped strike a forceful blow against the corporate practice of medicine when he carried House Bill 1532. That TMA-backed measure created a process for physicians to file complaints with the Texas Medical Board against non-profit health organizations, and prohibited those organizations from retaliating against a physician who makes a complaint in good faith.
HB 1532, which Representative Meyer says was prompted by a physician constituent, protects employed physicians’ independent medical judgment and clinical autonomy. Representative Meyer, an attorney who comes from a family of multiple physicians and therapists, says his appreciation for doctors was informed by his upbringing.
“My dad was a neurosurgeon, and the hours and hard work and dedication to serving others is something that I saw firsthand. My oldest sister is an oncologist, my brother-in-law is an orthopedic surgeon. The time and commitment that physicians have, and they do it literally [from] the goodness of their heart to care for other people, gives me a perspective that I think is unique in really understanding what physicians go through, and really why they do the job,” he said.
Representative Meyer’s service has included stints on the House Insurance Committee and the State Affairs Committee. When the 2021 session convenes, he says COVID-19 will have created a heightened need to examine mental health care.
“The last session, addressing mental health especially around our school children was a top priority. COVID has created an even greater need to advance how our state addresses the mental health needs of our children,” he said. “Certainly, physical access to health care is great, but we also have to really, really stress it’s important to continue advancing mental health access and funding this coming session as well.”
Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton) - District 64 in Denton north of Fort Worth
There aren’t enough physicians in politics to fill every seat in the legislature, but according to TEXPAC Director Christine Mojezati, veterinarians are also good representatives of medicine, in part because of their inherent embrace of science. Representative Stucky, going for his third term, brings a veterinarian’s experience with similar day-to-day issues – and reverence for vaccines – to the Capitol.
Because of an ultimately successful battle his wife waged against Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he’s experienced firsthand how bureaucratic health care has become.
“As a veterinarian, I’ve got a lot of friends who are medical doctors that many times our first encounter was that they brought their animals to me. So I hear a lot of their stories and their concerns, and sometimes [from] some of them who have changed their [practice] from anesthesiology to pain management, or something that doesn’t take insurance,” because of the hassles, he said. And he says he does not want people to be deterred from pursuing the medical profession.
“I really believe that medical doctors should be paid what they’re worth, [with] the amount of school that they have to go to. And I’m willing to help fight for them.”
Representative Stucky served on the House Committee on Appropriations during the 2019 session and was vice chair on the Higher Education Committee. He touts as victories key budgetary funding increases during last session, including an additional $68 million for the state’s women’s health programs, a 25% boost.
“[Texas is] growing at about 1,000 people per day, and about 400 of those are newborns,” he said. “That’s a significant responsibility to help new mothers by providing more services to ease the transition and improve early stages of parenting at home. Women’s health is a big issue and will continue to be a big issue, and I have been a big part of supporting increased funding for that.”
When it comes to the new realities of COVID-19, he says the state needs to provide a supply chain of personal protective equipment and funding for expedited, accurate, and affordable testing.
“A lot of what I’ve had to do for my constituents is informing the public on what’s going on, what are reasonable safety protocols, and what available resources there are for citizens and the businesses,” he said. “This pandemic ultimately … opened our eyes to opportunities to expand the access to care without creating other burdens or other expenses for the patients.”