May 25, 2011

Will Lawmakers Get Texas Budget Done in Time?

TMA Legislative News Hotline

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

State leaders and key budget negotiators are scrambling to find a last-minute solution for the school finance dilemma. The Texas House killed Senate Bill 1581 by Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) with a procedural maneuver Monday night. The legislation is a key piece of the state’s two-year budget puzzle. It would raise about $330 million for schools in the next two years through several mechanisms, including reducing the state’s contribution rate to the Teacher Retirement System. Lawmakers hope they can append the measure onto SB 1811, another revenue-generating budget bill that was sent to conference committee yesterday.  The conference committee consists of these 10 House and Senate members who ultimately will make the decision: Reps. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), chair; Sylvester Turner (D-Houston); Myra Crownover (R-Keller); Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands); and Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth); and Sens. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock); Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands); Royce West (D-Dallas); Dan Patrick (R-Houston); and Robert Deuell, MD (R-Greenville). Stay tuned.

Sen. Jane Nelson
(R-Flower Mound)
Yesterday was the last day for bills on the House General Calendar to be passed. Today is the last day for the Senate to consider bills on the Senate Intent Calendar. Either the survivors are being sent to conference committee to work out differences between the two chambers or the changes are receiving concurrence from the originating chamber.  Bills are moving quickly through both the House and the Senate onto Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for signature. Here are a few bills approved over the past week:

Health care collaborative: The Texas House tentatively approved SB 8 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) yesterday. It would establish a statewide plan for improving quality and increasing efficiency through performance-based measures, test collaborative models between physicians and other health care providers, and require public reporting of preventable readmissions and complications. TMA, the Texas Association of Health Plans, and the Texas Hospital Association have negotiated how the new paradigm in the bill would play out in the real world. As a result of these negotiations, three important provisions have been added to SB 8 to protect physicians in a collaborative arrangement:
  • Physicians would have an equal say and vote in a collaborative arrangement’s governing board.
  • They also would have due process protections and the ability to participate in more than one collaborative arrangement in their community.
  • The bill also protects Texas’ ban on the corporate practice of medicine.
Thanks to Rep. John Zerwas, MD (R-Simonton), TMA was able to get SB 1177 added to the bill yesterday. The legislation would require health care facilities such as hospitals to develop and implement vaccination policies for employees. SB 1177 is important because health care workers, especially those who are not immunized against the flu and other preventable diseases, may unknowingly spread these diseases to the patients in their care. Also, Rep. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) added his language on silent preferred provider organizations, which ensures that physicians and hospitals actually know who is accessing their contract rates.

Health insurance reform
  • SB 822 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) was sent to the governor’s desk yesterday. It would allow physicians who work in an academic setting to treat patients as “in-network” physicians for claims purposes while their applications for credentialing and health plan network participation are being reviewed and approved by the health plan’s credentialing committee.
  • The House approved House Bill 3017 by Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) yesterday. It would put in statute what was adopted through rulemaking late last year after the Office of Public Insurance Counsel (OPIC) petitioned the Texas Department of Insurance to prohibit the use of discretionary clauses in insurance policies. TMA supported OPIC’s request and commented heavily during the rulemaking process over the past year.
Physician workforce: The House approved SB 189 by Senator Nelson Monday. It would affect international medical gradates (IMGs) who are not American citizens or permanent legal residents and who apply for a Texas medical license. It requires IMGs to practice at least three years in an underserved area as a condition of licensure.

Additional liability changes: The Senate approved HB 274 by Rep. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) yesterday. It would discourage the filing of obviously frivolous lawsuits and encourage more efficient and speedier resolution of most claims.

Medicaid cost savings: The Senate also passed HB 2636 by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) yesterday. It directs the Health and Human Services Commission to establish a commission to study neonatal intensive care units.

Workers’ compensation: HB 1774 by Rep. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) was sent to the governor’s desk. It would continue the functions of the Office of Injured Employee Counsel under the workers’ compensation program for six years, to coincide with the next Sunset Advisory Commission review of the division. The Senate sponsor was Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place).

The physician of the day at the capitol is Elliott Trester, MD, of Austin. Dr. Trester has practiced family medicine for 30 years. He graduated from the Medical College of Ohio at Toledo in 1978. Dr. Trester is a member of TMA and the Travis County Medical Society.

TMA’s Message: Want to know where TMA stands on issues before House and Senate committees this session? All the testimonies presented by TMA leaders are on the TMA website. You can also find letters TMA has sent to our state leaders.

Read Action: Every two weeks, TMA publishes a web edition of Action. Action presents important and timely information about legal, economic, regulatory, and legislative affairs that Texas physicians need to know. Here is the May 18 edition.

Texas Senate backs frivolous lawsuits legislation (Forbes)
State Efforts to Take Control of Medicaid Struggling
(Texas Tribune)
House Gives First OK to Dewhurst's Health Reform
(Texas Tribune)
Governor signs sonogram requirement for abortion
(Houston Chronicle)

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