Legislative Hotline, March 3: Physicians Detail Needed Steps to Cut Ranks of the Uninsured
By Joey Berlin

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FIRST TUESDAYS AT THE CAPITOL

More than 200 physicians gathered virtually on Tuesday for this session’s second First Tuesdays at the Capitol. Speaking via Zoom webinar, Texas Medical Association lobbyists ran down the key issues physicians should raise  when setting up virtual meetings with their local lawmakers. Lobbyists equipped physician attendees with information on TMA’s budget priorities, as well as legislation that would curb insurers’ prior authorization processes, further public health interests in the state; extend coverage for both children and new mothers in the state Medicaid program; and more. 

Only two more virtual First Tuesdays remain during this legislative session – April 6 and May 4 –  so register today. Registration for the sessions is free. 

UNDER THE ROTUNDA

TMA was to continue telling a key Texas House subcommittee today what medicine and health care need out of the state’s next budget, resuming work that began with testimony Monday.  

In testimony on the health and human services portion of the state budget, two TMA physicians made the case Monday to a house subcommittee that the state’s uninsured rate has impacts that stretch well beyond the well-being of its uninsured patients – all the way to the state’s economic prosperity. But the Texas Legislature has within its reach the ability to reduce the state’s uninsured ranks, including 1 million Texas children, TMA physician leaders testified.

New Braunfels family physician Emily Briggs, MD, told the subcommittee that as has been shown during the COVID-19 pandemic, the uninsured have worse health outcomes and die younger than their insured counterparts. And too many new mothers die from preventable maternal health conditions, she added. “COVID-19 has deeply impacted the financial viability of many physician practices. Without help, the upheaval could become an extinction-level event,” Dr. Briggs said. “As practices close, merge with hospital systems, or sell to private-equity firms, resulting in higher costs and less innovation – just the opposite of Texas Medicaid’s leading-edge efforts to promote more accountable care.

“The deterioration of the state’s Medicaid physician network will harm all patients, not just Medicaid beneficiaries. Whole communities could see their physician networks wither away, taking jobs with them. As such, increasing coverage must go hand in glove with boosting Medicaid physician payments,” she testified.

At the same hearing, Houston pediatrician Claire Bocchini, MD, emphasized to the subcommittee the importance of both access to care and addressing patients’ social needs, which are at their highest level since she became a physician in 2005. She focused her testimony on three recommendations:

  • Ensuring meaningful, comprehensive coverage for children;
  • Establishing clear policy and payment guidelines related to Texas Medicaid’s efforts to address social determinants of health; and
  • Continuing investments in early childhood intervention.

Dr. Bocchini noted that a million Texas children, or 12.7%, lack health coverage, leading the nation in both percent and number. And 85% of Texans who are eligible for Medicaid, but not enrolled, are children.

“This is devastating to me, and I can’t emphasize how important it is for Texas children to have health insurance. I personally have taken care of many children who had delays in care due to being uninsured, such as a child who cannot see a dentist for a simple toothache after the child’s parents lost their jobs due to the pandemic; they lost their health insurance. By the time the child presented to care and I saw the child, the tooth infection had spread to the child’s brain,” she said.

“Again, this is unacceptable. But in addition to the fiscal harm caused by being uninsured, Texas’ economic freedom and prosperity also suffer. The uninsured have lower lifetime earnings, contributing to a higher rate of poverty and financial insecurity. Uninsured children miss more school, harming their future academic and economic success.”

Dr. Bocchini advocated that the Texas Legislature provide 12 months’ continuous coverage for children enrolled in Medicaid, as well as increase funding for outreach and enrollment for Texans who are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but not enrolled.

More Funding Requests Today 

Fort Worth-area pediatrician Jason Terk, MD, was scheduled to testify for TMA today before the same House subcommittee to emphasize TMA’s support for full funding of the state’s base budget and support for the Texas Department of State Health Services’ exceptional items the agency considers important to add to its base budget, such as public health services in rural and frontier areas.

Dr. Terk’s written remarks echo what TMA wrote to the Senate Finance Committee last week, when it expressed concern on the proposed 5% cut to state public health programs and urged the committee to fund maternal health initiatives, data and information technology upgrades, the state’s HIV Medication Program, and other key health care-focused funding.

Easy Ways to Get Involved in TMA Advocacy  

Your participation is a vital component of our legislative success. Please help strengthen the voice of medicine by joining our advocacy efforts.

Stay up to date on TMA’s progress in the legislature. And take advantage of other opportunities to get involved with our advocacy efforts.

Last Updated On

March 03, 2021

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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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