Legislative Hotline: Moving Forward on COVID-19 – TMA Offers Recommendations to Senate Committee
By Joey Berlin

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One year after COVID-19 began transforming the state and the nation, the Texas Medical Association is detailing for lawmakers what Texas physicians have witnessed and endured while fighting the pandemic in and offering recommendations for policy improvements going forward.

In testimony today before the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Austin oncologist Debra Patt, MD, recounted many of the challenges medicine faced during 2020 – and continues to face as the fight against the virus continues, in particular:

  • The short supply of personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Threats to practice viability;
  • The pandemic’s strain on physician mental health; and
  • Patients’ decisions to delay care, procedures, and vaccinations because of the virus.

“As patients avoided doctors’ offices, conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other serious chronic conditions were left untreated. As an oncologist, I’ve seen patients with metastasized cancer that should have been screened for, detected, and treated months ago,” wrote Dr. Patt, chair of TMA’s Council on Legislation. “Texas saw a stark drop – as much as a 43% decrease in April 2020 – in the number of vaccinations administered in Texas within the Texas Vaccine for Children program. Thankfully, vaccinations have rebounded slightly, but the threat of vaccine-preventable infectious disease outbreaks on top of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to remain an issue the more children are left behind on getting their vaccines.”

Plus, physicians still struggle to get COVID-19 vaccines for themselves, their staff, and their patients, Dr. Patt testified.

“TMA absolutely understood and supported opening up eligibility to our most vulnerable elderly residents. However, many physicians were left in the lurch – especially those in private practice and in rural areas, and those unaffiliated with hospitals,” she wrote. “Physicians wanting to continue safely seeing their patients found themselves caught up in the open flood of people trying to get vaccinated. And though we understand the need to get vaccine into as many arms as possible as quickly as possible, we do urge continued allocation to private practices.”

Dr. Patt’s written testimony offered five TMA recommendations to move forward using the lessons of COVID-19:

  • Maintain a state stockpile of PPE and prioritize allocation to physicians on the front lines.
  • Support the implementation of telemedicine and ensure payment parity between those services and services provided in person.
  • Urge state health agencies to encourage patients to seek preventive care.
  • Prioritize COVID-19 vaccine allocation to private-practice physicians, especially those caring for the most vulnerable, high-risk populations, including the elderly, people of color, and patients with comorbidities.
  • Avoid and resist “prescribing medical practice into law or regulation,” such as laws that may hinder future responses to disease outbreaks.

Help  Stop Bad Scope Bills

With the pace of legislative activity accelerating, the opportunities to stop bad bills and promote good ones will quickly surge. Time-sensitive Action Alerts are an effective and efficient way for you to share your concerns and support with legislators from the convenience of your desk or mobile phone. 

TMA needs your help, right now, to stop two dangerous bills that would allow advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to practice and prescribe independently. Sixty percent of statewide voters oppose allowing nurse practitioners to diagnose, treat patients, and prescribe medicine without the oversight of a licensed physician.

Don’t let APRNs push physicians out of patient care. APRNs are telling lawmakers they need the authority to diagnose and prescribe independent of physician supervision. 

House Bill 2029 by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) and Senate Bill 915 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) would allow APRNs to independently prescribe dangerous drugs and controlled substances (up to Schedule III with some Schedule II privileges in inpatient facilities and hospice), order and interpret diagnostic testing, and prescribe durable medical equipment and devices. 

Tell your senator and representative that if they want to improve access to safe, quality health care in Texas, they must expand opportunities for physician-led, team-based care.

Use the TMA Grassroots Action Center for a ready-made message you can easily and quickly send via email or Twitter. It only takes a minute. 

And be on the lookout throughout the session for other Action Alerts, which will arrive by email and will have a pre-written response, to which we strongly encourage you to add a personalized story or anecdote about how the proposed legislation will affect you, your patients, and your practice. You can access Action Alerts from the email you receive, our Grassroots Action Center, or the VoterVoice mobile app.

Easy Ways to Get Involved in TMA Advocacy   

 Take advantage of other opportunities to get involved with our advocacy efforts.

 

Last Updated On

March 10, 2021

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Coronavirus | Texas legislation

Joey Berlin

Associate Editor

(512) 370-1393
JoeyBerlinSQ

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.

More stories by Joey Berlin