Health & Science

Texas Lawmakers Release Health Agenda for Legislative Session

Six weeks before the start of the Texas legislative session, a senate committee recommends changes to women’s health programs, mental healthcare and prescription drug monitoring. The report does not recommend expanding Medicaid to more uninsured Texans, a decision criticized by three Democratic minority committee members.

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State Senator Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown
Photo courtesy of the state of Texas

A Texas senate committee has released a “to do” list to address major health issues in Texas, but without expanding Medicaid. The report from the nine-member committee talks about alternative ways of helping the 5.5 million uninsured Texans, strategies for keeping the mentally ill out of jails, and the possibility of drug testing some welfare recipients. The report will guide legislative priorities during the upcoming 84th session, which begins January 13.

State senator Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, is the committee chair. Along with the report, he introduced three bills for the upcoming session. Two bills seek to tackle opioid drug abuse by strengthening the state’s prescription monitoring system, and one would require the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to wean itself off state funding by 2021.

Medicaid expansion is offered to states as part of the politically-controversial Affordable Care Act. Governor Rick Perry has repeatedly rejected any moves to accept that expansion, which would initially use federal money to cover uninsured adults. Texas would have to pay only 10 percent of the costs starting in 2020.

But the report said Texas should pursue alternative options for uninsured Texans, such as asking the federal government for a waiver to expand Medicaid with additional rules and co-payments, as was done in Arkansas. The report also pointed out that numerous local hospitals and clinics already shoulder the burden of caring for the uninsured, and state government could consider channeling money to the most effective ones. Three Democrat members of the committee attached a dissent-style letter to the report, saying the legislature should not dismiss any opportunity to draw down federal dollars to cover the uninsured.

Schwertner, an orthopedic surgeon, was no available for comment Tuesday. In a statement, he said the report allowed both political parties to find common ground on health issues: “While the members of this committee may approach the issues of healthcare from different political backgrounds or ideological perspectives, in the end, we all want what’s best for the people of Texas.”

The report also suggested needed reforms for women’s health programs, child protective services, and mental health services. Many of the reforms addressed the problem of fragmentation of services. For example, there are six different programs providing female reproductive health services such as family planning or breast cancer screenings. The report suggested housing the programs in one agency.

Mental health services are also scattered among agencies, so the report recommended a centralized informational website, as well as providing funds for “co-locating” mental health and substance abuse programs under the same roof, and encouraging cooperation between local mental health programs and county jails.

 

 

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