UNDER THE ROTUNDA
Most of the attention today is focused on the school finance debate on the House floor, but Texas Medical Association members continued advocating on behalf of medicine in committee hearings.
In the House Public Health Committee, TMA submitted written testimony in support of a pair of bills: House Bill 39 by Rep. John Zerwas, MD (R-Richmond) (pictured at left), which would extend the life of the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT); and House Bill 75 by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), which would protect employees, volunteers, and participants in syringe service programs (SSPs) from drug charges.
HB 39 would allow CPRIT to continue its cancer research beyond the current 2022 Sunset date, contingent on funding from the legislature. This year, more than 121,000 Texans will be diagnosed with cancer, and 40,000 will die.
HB 75 would ensure that distributing sterile injection equipment, such as hypodermic needles and syringes, to protect public safety is not a criminal act.
“People who inject drugs are at risk of acquiring and transmitting blood-borne infections such as HIV and viral hepatitis through unsafe injection practices,” TMA said in its statement. “These health events are costly to society: the estimated lifetime cost of treating one person with HIV is nearly $400,000, and the average hospital admission for opioid overdose costs $92,400. SSPs (syringe services programs) limit infectious disease transmission by promoting safe injection practices.”
In the House Higher Education Committee, TMA advocacy intern and third-year medical student Ankita Brahmaroutu testified in support of House Bill 2573 by Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), which would add the The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School and the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to the Joint Admission Medical Program (JAMP).
Created in 2001, JAMP guarantees acceptance into a Texas medical school to highly qualified, economically disadvantaged students. It also offers scholarships and summer internships.
“JAMP has proven to be a successful program for improving diversity among the Texas physician workforce , and for giving economically disadvantaged medical students an opportunity they likely would not otherwise have to become a physician,” said Ms. Brahmaroutu, who is a student at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “JAMP also has special programs that create pipelines for high school students into medicine. Through this pipeline I’ve had the opportunity to mentor students, inspiring each of us.”
On the other side of the rotunda, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed its version House Bill 1 by Representative Zerwas, which is the state’s 2020-21 budget.
Last week, the House passed HB 1 unanimously; it will now wind its way through the Senate. A conference committee will conduct final negotiations.
BILLS THAT ARE MOVING
Senate Bill 1264 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), which would institute baseball-style arbitration for disagreements regarding payment for surprise bills based on market-based benchmark data, was voted out of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee 7-2 and awaits a hearing on the Senate floor. TMA supports this newly revised bill.
House Bill 1418 by Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) seeks to ensure emergency services personnel receive up-to-date information about their immunization status when they seek certification or recertification. The House gave its final approval to the bill on a 147-0 vote; it now heads to the Senate where it will await committee referral.
The House Insurance Committee approved several bills unanimously, setting them on a path to consideration on the House floor.
- House Bill 2327 and House Bill 2387 by Rep. Greg Bonnen, MD (R-Friendswood) (pictured at right) would require more prior authorization transparency and require utilization reviews to be conducted by a licensed Texas physician, respectively. TMA testified in strong support of these bills last month.
- Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton) has four bills TMA supports:
- House Bill 1832, the “prudent layperson” bill, prohibits health insurance companies from implementing any practice that renders coverage for emergency services dependent upon a final diagnosis.
- House Bill 2408, prohibits prior authorization requirements for state-mandated health benefits, such as mammograms and prostate cancer screening.
- House Bill 2520 requires health plans that approve a prior authorization request for elective health care services to tell patients ahead of time about (1) the network status of physicians or providers who may participate in the service and (2) the patient’s expected financial responsibility.
- House Bill 2630 requires a health plan’s network directory to clearly identify which physicians are in-network at network facilities.
GETTING A BILL MOVING
So far this session, lawmakers have filed 7,636 bills. TMA is monitoring 1,936 of them. Bills must be referred to committee before they can be heard on the floor and voted on by the full body. Then the process repeats in the other chamber. Fifty-four days remain until sine die.
BILLS OF NOTE
Here are some bills TMA is watching. Keep an eye on your email inbox for Action Alerts as we work to pass or kill bills.
- House Bill 2243 by Rep. Tom Oliverson, MD (R-Cypress) would permit a school nurse to administer prescription asthma medicine to a student who has a prescription for that medicine but whose inhaler is not readily available when needed. This will prevent trips to the emergency room. TMA supports this bill.
- House Bill 1941 by Representative Phelan would prohibit free-standing emergency facilities from charging “unconscionable” rates, defined as 200 percent or more of the average charge for the same or substantially similar treatment at a hospital emergency room. TMA supports this bill.
HEALTHY VISION 2025
Healthy Vision 2025 – released in late January – is TMA’s all-inclusive, health care roadmap for legislators.
Want to help spread and promote TMA’s Healthy Vision for Texas? Become a TMA social media ambassador.
TODAY’S GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY TIP
Just as you do with your patients, make sure you follow up with your legislator after you’ve had a meeting or phone call. Be persistent but polite, and remind your legislator how important the issue is to you. Ask for an update on where the issue stands, and don’t get dejected if it takes more than one session to address your issue. That is quite common. Get more tips in our Grassroots Advocacy Guide.
PHYSICIAN OF THE DAY
Today’s physician of the day is Lindsay Botsford, MD, of Sugar Land. Dr. Botsford graduated from Baylor College of Medicine and is a member of both TMA and the Harris County Medical Society.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Fight against surprise medical bills gains momentum in Legislature – Houston Chronicle
Trump Says Vote on Healthcare Can Wait Until After 2020 Election – Reuters
Measles count in US this year already more than all of 2018 – The Associated Press
Americans Borrowed $88 Billion to Pay for Health Care Last Year, Survey Finds – The New York Times
Texas edges toward raising sales age for tobacco, but some see smoking as a ‘personal liberty’ – The Dallas Morning News
Texas Health, Baylor, and Methodist Among TMF Health Quality Award Winners – D CEO Healthcare
UH College of Medicine Moves Forward in Texas Legislature – University of Houston