AUSTIN (KXAN) — Lawmakers ended this year’s session with their biggest goals checked off. They slowed the growth of property taxes, overhauled the state’s broken school finance system and raised teacher pay.
But while legislative priorities made headlines, the funding put forward to bolster medical programs and address the state’s growing health problems seemed to fly under the radar.
“A lot of funding is going into children’s health issues, and we’ve seen over the last few years that Texas has been deficient in that,” said Dr. David Fleeger, president of the Texas Medical Association (TMA).
The state increased funding for its Early Childhood Intervention program–which provides support services for families of children with developmental disabilities from birth to three-years-old by $31 million.
Lawmakers also focused on young adult health and made Texas the 14th state in the country to raise the smoking age for tobacco and e-cigarette products to 21.
Fleeger called the move a “major win for the patients of Texas.”
“Ultimately this is a bill that will save thousands of lives in the state of Texas,” Fleeger said. “If you delay the onset of smoking then you’re less likely to become addicted, and you’re less likely to have the obvious diseases.”
While other state legislatures imposed abortion bans–some at six to eight weeks, others at 18 to 22 weeks and one state banning the practice unless the mother’s health is at risk–the Texas legislature did not.
Lawmakers increased women’s health funding by $68 million and put forth $7 million to address the state’s alarmingly high maternal mortality and morbidity rates.
But not every TMA priority passed the legislature with flying colors.
The TMA pushed, unsuccessfully, for $500 million to increase Medicaid payment rates for physicians with hopes of “saving lives, lowering private health insurance and saving taxpayer costs.”
“Medicaid payment rates set by the state are roughly 20 years old,” Fleeger said. “(the rates today) do not cover the actual cost of care, and in many cases pay half or less of what Medicare pays for the same service.”
Fleeger said hospitals that employ or contract physicians for their services will have to charge patients paying with private health plans, or out of pocket, more to cover their losses from Medicaid.
Fleeger said the failed Medicaid expansion push will result in “higher health care costs for all Texans” and the TMA called it “the session’s greatest disappointment for medicine.”
The TMA also pushed for an increase in funding for Medicaid eligibility for new mothers. Hoping to extend coverage through the program from 60 days after birth to a whole year to cover potential postnatal complications, but were unsuccessful.
“There’s a significant number of issues that lead to maternal mortality in that period of time,” Fleeger said. “We wanted that to go through Medicaid because that’s a known set of benefits.”
The program will now go through the state’s “Healthy Texas Women” program and receive $45 million in funding from the state’s budget.
Fleeger credited the TMA’s legislative accomplishments to the experienced doctors in the state legislature speaking “the same language.”
“There’s a legislative language and a doctor language. They have to know both of them so they help us to interpret,” Fleeger said. “Other legislators look to them because they know that they know the medical issues, they know the science involved.”