Lawmakers OK New Money for Trauma Centers

Now that the dust has settled from the Texas legislative session, Houston's trauma centers will soon receive new funding streams for emergency rooms. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, lawmakers will add at least $51 million per year into the state's trauma centers.

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A few years ago, the legislature created a new fund called the Driver Responsibility Program. Drivers ticketed for various violations, usually DWI, have to pay an additional fine. The monies collected are supposed to go to the state's trauma centers. Last session lawmakers capped the fund. Harris County Hospital District's Vice President of Public Policy King Hillier says this session they removed that cap.

"Last session they capped that at $31 million and the fund grew to in excess of $50(million), so we had to get some Legislative Budget Board approval to tap into those funds. What we have now is provisions that if the fund grows to the anticipated $90 million level, we would have access to those funds."

In addition to freeing up that money, lawmakers also created a new source of trauma center funding. Houston will be one of the primary sources of that money -- through the city's controversial red light camera system. The state mandated half of all net revenue from red light camera citations must go toward the trauma fund. Houston Mayor Bill White says he supports more funding for trauma care, but he's not sure this is the best idea.

"I do have a bit of a problem with the practice that we've seen repeatedly of people designating a portion of municipal fines for functions that the state government wants to fund."

White says it seems like state lawmakers want to mandate local government money without having to say they imposed a new tax or fee and he calls that disingenuous. And there's no way to tell at this point how much money could be generated from the red light cameras. However much money it is, it will help trauma centers, but Hillier says it's not a permanent solution.

"These trauma funds, for example, these are just band-aids on a broken system and a system that is broken nationally. And so our trauma systems are going to be in jeopardy until we adequately address the insurance needs of our community and our state and our country."

Hillier says the extra one or two million dollars that will be allocated to each center could keep some of them open for a while longer, but they'll still be drowning in uninsured patients and uncompensated care. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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