In the 87th Texas Legislature, lawmakers enacted meaningful health care policies to improve Texans’ lives.
A panel of experts discussed the highlights from the legislative session as part of the second Quality Enhancement Plan forum highlighting how public policy affects health care and research. A full recording of the discussion can be watched online.
The Texas Legislature meets biennially for 140 days, in which time, elected representatives and their staff work with lobbyists and other parties to take care of the state’s business for the next two years.
Legislators improved access to telemedicine, which is projected to decrease health care costs and increase quality of care in rural areas. Investment in broadband internet will also increase the ability for patients to access telemedicine.
The state also continue its investment in expanding mental health care in Texas, including committing the first years of operational funding for the John S. Dunn Behavioral Sciences Center.
Commitments were also made to the Child Psychiatry Access Network, a network of centers staffed by child psychiatrists who provide live telephone case consultation to pediatricians and primary care providers, as well as training on common child mental health concerns.
Another positive measure for patients and population health was a bill guaranteeing postpartum Medicaid coverage for six months after birth, an increase from the two months previously covered under the program.
“We treat a high-risk patient population, and while extending that coverage to six months is an improvement, it’s still not enough time,” said Lindsay Lanagan, vice president of government relations and public affairs at Legacy Community Health in Houston, the largest community health clinic in the state. “We are shooting for a year of coverage postpartum. That is the standard in most state Medicaid programs. Advocates made a big case, and I have a strong feeling everyone will show back up to get 12 months next session.”
Other measures were aimed at curbing health care costs. Texas has the highest health care spending of any state, and those prices increased by 13% over the pandemic, according to Jamie Dudensing, RN, MPA, chief executive officer of Texas Association of Health Plans.
“A number of bills and discussions are trying to change this,” Dudensing said. “A big one was a price transparency bill that requires hospitals to disclose negotiated rates (between hospitals and insurance providers). We’ve never seen that data before. It won’t solve the problem, but we believe the first step is having the data. You can’t get anywhere without information first, and this is a big step.”
Other measures were aimed at preventing medical price gouging.
“During COVID, we saw a number of providers price gouging consumers — including the infamous $30,000 for one COVID test. That’s no different than gas stations gouging prices in an emergency,” Dudensing said. “There was legislation passed that put hefty legal penalties on providers that price gouge and trick patients during a public health emergency.”
Other measures were more mundane, but will have a profound impact on Texans. Lanagan said a measure reducing the number of times a parent has to verify eligibility for children’s Medicaid will keep thousands of children insured, and eliminate costly gaps in coverage.
“Previously, the way the state was administering children’s Medicaid included sending a letter to the parent to prove eligibility,” she said. “Parents had to reply within 10 days of receiving the letter to maintain eligibility. This was happening multiple times a year. We were able to streamline that.”
Legislators enacted legislation to make it easier for Texans to get medication.
“For people with mental health issues, access to medication can become problematic with prior authorizations and other measures,” said Eric Woomer, principal and founder of Eric Woomer Policy Solutions, a governmental affairs practice. “The physician group I work for and others worked together to streamline the process (with the goal of keeping) people on their path. If patients get off their medications, a host of problems follow. That was a big win for people who are struggling.”
Lanagan said the state also increased funding to help people living with HIV and AIDS to get medications, even as the population was affected by pandemic unemployment.
“We found ourselves in a struggle for HIV funding, and we wanted to make the case you can’t have an epidemic within a pandemic. We worked to get funding for the Texas HIV Medication Program. Twelve people a day test positive, and those are in largely underserved areas and are largely uninsured. It’s important that people living with HIV are virally suppressed so there is no transmission.”
The discussion was the second in a series highlighting how public policy affects health care and research. A recap and recording of the first forum on how lobbyists affect and influence health care policy can be found on the UTHealth Houston Intranet.
The final forum in the series, “The health policy agenda for the 88th legislative session” will be held on Sept. 23.
The series is a collaboration between the Quality Enhancement Plan team and the UTHealth Houston Office of Governmental Relations.
It is part of UTHealth Houston’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which is focused on Healthcare Policy for Health Professionals. Known as HP2, this QEP promotes student engagement, critical thinking, and career preparedness, and reflects the university’s commitment to institutional quality and effectiveness.
Read more about the QEP on the UTHealth Houston intranet.
About the series:
UTHealth Houston’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is a three-part discussion series focused on health care policy for health professionals. It promotes student engagement, critical thinking, and career preparedness, and reflects the university’s commitment to institutional quality and effectiveness.