TMA Makes Its Case on “Starting Point” COVID Relief Bill
By Joey Berlin

A bill to distribute nearly $17 billion in COVID-19 relief funds – medicine’s focal point during the current special session of the Texas Legislature – drew both praise and recommendations for improvement from the Texas Medical Association and several state specialty societies.

TMA expressed strong support for a number of pieces of Senate Bill 8 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), chair of the Senate Finance Committee. The bill would allocate federal money Texas is receiving from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

In an Oct. 4 letter to that committee, medicine lauded pieces of the legislation that would:

  • Continue nursing and heath professional surge staffing to maintain needed hospital workforce capacity for both emergency and inpatient care;
  • Expand regional outpatient antibody infusion centers to increase the availability of lifesaving COVID-19 treatment;
  • Increase broadband infrastructure throughout the state, enhancing virtual health care that can particularly benefit patients in underserved areas;
  • Invest additional resources in the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium and in the completion of a new Dallas psychiatric hospital; and
  • Provide resources to Texas food banks.

“We understand that SB 8, as filed, is a starting point for discussions regarding how best to allocate ARPA funds. Certainly, there is no shortage of good ideas,” TMA wrote.

TMA asked the legislature to consider several recommendations during those discussions, including:

  • Sustain increased investments in infectious disease prevention and surveillance so Texas can respond rapidly “when – not if – another novel infectious agent crosses its borders”;
  • Increase access to multidisciplinary services for Texans diagnosed with long COVID, including funding for a long COVID research center at one or more academic health centers;
  • Improve access to behavioral health services for postpartum women, including through the development of a maternal psychiatry access network similar to the existing Child Psychiatry Access Network;
  • Strengthen the health care workforce, including an investment in the state’s Physician Education Loan Repayment Program, which has been closed to new applicants since 2020 because of decreased funding; and
  • Fund connection fees to statewide and regional health information exchanges for physicians, clinics, hospitals, and other facilities to connect via electronic health records.

TMA’s letter urged the legislature to “consider first and foremost that Texas has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use the dollars to fortify and modernize the state’s public health system, enhance the physician and health professional workforce to meet the needs of today’s – and tomorrow’s – Texans, and mitigate the enduring harm of [COVID-19] on patients diagnosed with ‘long COVID.’”

Specialty organizations signing on with TMA included the Texas district of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; the Texas Academy of Family Physicians; the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; the Texas Chapter of the American College of Physicians Services; and the Texas Pediatric Society.

The Senate Finance Committee considered SB 8 in a public hearing on Monday.

Last Updated On

October 05, 2021

Originally Published On

October 05, 2021

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Coronavirus | Texas legislation

Joey Berlin

Associate Editor

(512) 370-1393

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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