Legislative Update, February 15

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Legislative Updates

Methodist Healthcare Ministries Leads Healthcare Visits for San Antonio Chambers’ Annual SA to DC trip

Dr. Penn Wickersham and Jaime Wesolowski meet with United States Navy Vice Admiral Raquel Bono in Washington, D.C. February 5th, 2019

Methodist Healthcare Ministries traveled to Washington, D.C. this past week with more than 180 members of San Antonio’s local business chambers to advocate for health coverage and graduate medical education funding, among other key issues impacting San Antonio businesses and local government organizations. Dr. Pendleton Wickersham, board member and Chair of the Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ Policy subcommittee, and Jaime Wesolowski, president and CEO of Methodist Healthcare Ministries were joined by MHM’s Department of Policy & Advocacy staff as they met with members of the Bexar County congressional delegation and Senate Finance Committee staff to share concerns with the lack of affordable health coverage for low-income families and the need for funded graduate medical education residency training slots. The group also expressed its gratitude to congressional leaders for federal funding for substance use treatment that has recently been awarded to Bexar County mental health providers.

The San Antonio delegation had the opportunity to hear from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and several San Antonio congressmen on critical healthcare and immigration issues affecting our country. Speaker Pelosi acknowledged the high cost of prescription drugs, stating that finding solutions to reduce these costs is a high priority for House leadership. Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-San Antonio) expressed the need to increase funding to train healthcare personnel, noting Texas ranks 41st in the nation for physician to population ratio. He discussed his efforts to find bipartisan support to correct deficiencies within the Affordable Care Act, and protect key provisions that have served families well, such as covering individuals with pre-existing conditions.

The four-day trip to the nation’s Capitol by the large San Antonio delegation provided opportunities for key discussions and potential public/private collaborative opportunities. Methodist Healthcare Ministries staff has also been selected to lead chamber healthcare advocates for the upcoming Viva San Antonio Chamber Day at the Capitol coming up on March 5.

Governor Greg Abbott Prioritizes Mental Health

Texas Governor Greg Abbott focused on issues impacting mental health in schools in his State of the State Address this past Tuesday, setting the tone for his priority issues this legislative session. In his address to both chambers of the Legislature, the governor declared Senate Bill 10 by Senator Nelson (R- Flower Mound) an emergency item, which would allow academic institutions to collaborate on statewide mental health needs and increase access to behavioral health services for students.

Governor Abbott’s emergency designation allows legislators to take action on bills deemed a priority within the first 60 days. His other emergency items include school finance, property tax reform, school safety and disaster response. While it was not termed an emergency item, Governor Abbott also urged lawmakers to provide more mental health resources for veterans. As part of its 86th Legislative Agenda, Methodist Healthcare Ministries supports initiatives such as Senate Bill 10 to build upon mental health services for children and promote collaboration among medical schools that will address the mental health workforce shortage in Texas, especially in rural and underserved areas.

Senate Finance Committee Evaluates State Healthcare Funding

The Texas Senate Finance Committee met last week to discuss the current healthcare funding needs for Texas’ neediest residents. Dr. Courtney Phillips, Executive Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) noted how 81 percent of the agency’s appropriations were spent on client services within the state’s Medicaid program. Newly elected Senator Pete Flores (R-San Antonio) took the opportunity to voice his support for state funding for the reconstruction of a new San Antonio State Hospital (SASH) facility and the addition of beds to address the current waitlist for services.

Several healthcare advocates testified on the significance of adequate funding for state services. Children’s advocacy organizations pointed to recent studies that indicated an increase in the number of uninsured children, a sobering concern, given that Texas already leads the nation with the highest percentage of uninsured children. They also asked senators to support Medicaid funding that would allow children to have 12 months of continuous coverage, a legislative priority for Methodist Healthcare Ministries. Several testimonies recommended funding for behavioral health services and women’s health services. Methodist Healthcare Ministries will continue to advocate for sufficient funding for the state’s healthcare services and its impact on our communities.

Texas Lawmaker Files Bill to Address Adverse Childhood Experiences

Representative Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) filed HB 822 which would develop a five-year strategic plan to prevent and address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The multiagency effort would include strategies to train and educate professionals on how to assess and treat ACEs, provide trauma-informed practices and develop parental support programs.

Representative Parker invited San Antonio community members, Christine Bryan, VP of Information Technology and Public Policy at Clarity Child Guidance Center, and Dr. Colleen Bridger, Director of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, to take part in a stakeholder roundtable and provide recommendations on key provisions of the bill. The input will be used to develop a committee substitute once the bill secures a hearing. Mitigating the effects of ACEs is a priority for San Antonio children’s advocates, including Methodist Healthcare Ministries. In 2018, there were over 11,000 domestic violence cases in San Antonio alone.

House Appropriations Committee Receives Update on State Mental Health Hospitals

Mike Maples, Deputy Executive Commissioner of Health & Specialty Care System at Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), provided an update to the House Appropriations Committee about decreasing the waitlist for mental health services in Texas through reconstruction of state inpatient mental health facilities, including San Antonio State Hospital. Mr. Maples noted that the Legislature would need to appropriate $323 million to reconstruct the 300-bed facility on the southside of San Antonio.

Texas inpatient mental health facilities have a high number of medically complex patients who need more structure than community services, but not as significant as state hospitals. The state lacks step-down or transitional options for these patients, which increases their length of stay and ties up capacity at state hospitals. HHSC is developing tiered residential transition options for these patients, as well as revising statutes related to forensic admissions in order to reduce the waitlists for the hospitals. Additionally, Mr. Maples expressed the need to fully fund HHSC’s exceptional item to increase salary for hospital staff $350 by position, which is vital for operation. During the 86th Legislative Session, Methodist Healthcare Ministries will educate lawmakers on the importance of full funding of San Antonio State Hospital and support transition services and salary increases at state hospitals.

Upcoming Meetings & Events

Feb 19: House Appropriations Subcommittee Article III Hearing – GME Funding (Austin)

Feb 19: House Appropriations Subcommittee Article III Hearing – Medical Institutions (Austin)

Feb 21-22: THA 2019 Annual Conference and Expo (Austin)

Mar 30: SASH Spring Thing 5K (San Antonio)

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