AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two pieces of legislation aimed at reforming the Texas Medical Board are moving forward and, if signed into law, could impact all Texas patients.

The Texas House overwhelmingly passed HB 1998 Friday, which was filed in direct response to a series of KXAN investigations. After a vote of 124-13, the bill now heads to the Senate.

“KXAN uncovered a problem, brought it to my attention,” said Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Farmers Branch in March. “We discussed. I met with policyholders. We’ve come together to form, I think, a piece of legislation that can make a meaningful impact into health safety and patient safety.”

‘Lives put at risk’

The measure was introduced after KXAN found dozens of doctors who had licenses revoked in other states practicing in Texas with no record of any discipline on their public physician profiles. It’s a point Johnson referenced in remarks to lawmakers.

“Current statute governing the Texas Medical Board is riddled with loopholes that allows physicians licensed in Texas, especially those transferring between hospitals, or moving into Texas from other states, to avoid disciplinary actions,” Johnson told lawmakers. “When disciplinary actions are overlooked, patient safety, and in some cases their lives, are put at risk.”

The bill would make it a crime to lie on license applications. It would also prevent doctors who have had their licenses revoked elsewhere from practicing in Texas.

View underneath the Texas Capitol dome (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

“KXAN’s investigative reporting has really shined a very bright light on the issue and exposed problems within the Texas Medical Board,” said Texas Watch executive director Ware Wendell, who credited our “Still Practicing” series as being “instrumental” in getting to this point at the Texas Capitol.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization has advocated on consumer issues, including patient safety, for 25 years.

“Matt Grant with KXAN has done yeoman’s work in identifying problems at the medical board,” Wendell said in testimony to lawmakers in support of the bill back in March. “Finding…nearly 50 doctors who have had problems in other states but were practicing here in Texas and we’re unaware of that as members of the public. Why? Because the Texas Medical Board wasn’t doing their job.”

Johnson said she collaborated with the TMB and the Texas Medical Association on her bill. It was amended to have the TMB charge physicians a fee to cover the cost of their continuous monitoring with the National Practitioner Data Bank, which costs $2.50 per doctor per year.

KXAN’s microphone and camera seen at a Texas Senate hearing for SB 666 (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

The TMB does not continuously monitor physicians with the NPDB. If signed into law, it would allow the board to find out in almost real-time if a doctor has been disciplined elsewhere, is sued for medical malpractice, or facing criminal actions.

“This legislation is strong patient safety legislation that will close loopholes and help the Texas Medical Board do its job,” said Wendell. “Now, we need the Senate to step up and do their job for patients.”

Senate TMB bill also advances

KXAN investigative reporter testifies at a Texas Senate committee in April (Courtesy: Texas Senate Committee on Health & Human Services)

On the Senate side, a bill introduced by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Rockwall, also passed Friday and now advances to the House.

KXAN investigative reporter Matt Grant testified in front of lawmakers, including Hall, about the results of our reporting.

Senate Bill 666, which is opposed by TMB leaders, would cut down on “frivolous” TMB investigations, Hall said. It was amended to require a panel of five doctors to review physician complaints after an initial determination is made that the complaint shows substandard care.

Hall said his bill was partly inspired by KXAN’s reporting, which found the TMB allowed doctors it deemed to be a “threat to the public welfare” to keep practicing with restrictions.

“This particular problem was originally exposed by some really good investigative reporters from KXAN,” said Hall during previous remarks made last month when he introduced his bill. “We are very grateful to them for their findings.”