Telemedicine, Liability Bills Move Ahead
By Joey Berlin


Five calendar days remain until “sine die,” the adjournment of the 2021 Texas legislative session. Medicine’s advocates are working hard to make sure they count.

One of the Texas Medical Association’s prime priorities – expanded telemedicine – is one step closer to being a fixture in Texas health care after the state Senate passed a TMA-championed measure on Monday to make permanent some COVID-19-era allowances for telemedicine.

House Bill 4 by Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) cleared the Senate with an amendment. It would require the state to “ensure that Medicaid recipients, child health plan program enrollees,” and certain others have telemedicine and telehealth services available to them, to “the extent permitted by federal law and to the extent it is cost-effective and clinically effective.” The list of services that would be required for telemedicine availability includes:

  • Preventive health and wellness;
  • Case management services; and
  • Behavioral health services.

HB 4 would require the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to develop a system to ensure behavioral health services can be delivered using an audio-only platform. It would also require the state to establish policies “to improve access to care under the Medicaid managed care program by encouraging the use of telehealth services, telemedicine medical services, home telemonitoring services, and other telecommunications or information technology under the program.”

Because the Senate amended the bill, it must return to the House for concurrence with the new version before it can head to the governor’s desk.

Liability protections for a pandemic

Another TMA-backed measure nearing the finish line in the legislature’s final days would make Texas physicians breathe easier the next time something like COVID-19 happens.

Senate Bill 6 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) would greatly increase liability protection for physicians, other health care workers, and first responders in the event of a “pandemic disease or a disaster declaration related to a pandemic disease.” It passed the House on Monday with an amendment.

Under the bill, physicians (and those other professionals) would generally not be liable for injuries or death “arising from care, treatment, or failure to provide care or treatment” related to or impacted by the pandemic. Among other care, the protections would apply to:

  • Screening, assessing, diagnosing, or treating someone who is infected or suspected of being infected with a pandemic disease;
  • Prescribing, administering, or dispensing drugs for off-label use to treat the disease;
  • Delaying or canceling nonurgent or elective medical, surgical, or dental procedures; and
  • Acts or omissions caused by a lack of staffing, personnel, facilities, supplies, and devices.

Like HB 4, SB 6 needs to return to its parent chamber and receive concurrence on the House amendment before it’s considered fully passed and can receive the governor’s signature.

Making registering a SNAP

Also Monday, the House passed a TMA-supported bill to make it simpler for seniors and people with disabilities to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Senate Bill 224 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) passed 117-28. Senator Perry is expected to concur with an amendment made in the House, after which the bill will go to Gov. Greg Abbott. It directs the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to develop “simplified certification and recertification requirements” for people who are at least 60 years old or have a disability, and live in a household where everyone meets one of those two criteria. The new requirements also allow for 36 months of eligibility after both certification and recertification.

Last Updated On

May 25, 2021

Originally Published On

May 25, 2021