Legislative Update, January 25th

Legislative Updates

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Legislative Updates

Speaker Bonnen Appoints House Committees

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) released House Committee assignments for the 86th Legislative Session this week, appointing new leadership to oversee the lower chamber’s 34 powerful committees. While Speaker Bonnen retained Representative John Zerwas (R-Richmond) to chair the Appropriations Committee, he selected Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) as the new Chair of the Public Health Committee and Representative James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) to lead the Human Services Committee for the first time. Former Public Health Chairman, Representative Four Price (R-Amarillo) was awarded with the Chair of the powerful House Calendars Committee, which controls the bills that are formally considered on the House floor. The session will begin to pick up the pace now as legislation begins to be referred to the respective committees for discussion over the next two weeks. 

Senate Finance Committee Kicks Off Budget Hearings

The Texas Senate Finance Committee did not waste any time to start its review of the proposed budget, scheduling hearings to take testimony on all state agencies over the next three weeks. On Tuesday, the committee held its first meeting to outline the hearings schedule and review the projected state revenue estimates from Texas Comptroller Glen Hegar. Comptroller Hegar warned senators to remain cautiously optimistic about the state’s growth rate over the coming year, due to the fluctuation in oil prices and sales tax revenue.

During the hearing, Chair Nelson (R-Flower Mound) addressed critical funding issues related to school safety and state hospitals, as well as the Medicaid shortfall and Hurricane Harvey expenses in her supplemental bill, Senate Bill 500. The bill, as filed, includes $300 million for state hospital construction through the Economic Stabilization Fund and $2.1 billion in state funds to cover the Medicaid shortfall. Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ legislative priorities include securing sufficient funding for the construction of a new San Antonio State Hospital and programs that will increase access to healthcare services for our communities.

Federal Court Rules Against Planned Parenthood in Texas

A federal appeals court has lifted the order that blocked Texas from excluding Planned Parenthood out of the Women’s Health Program. In February 2017, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled the state could not block Planned Parenthood from the federal-state insurance program, after edited videos were publicly released claiming the organization had sold fetal tissue for profit. The order by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared Judge Sparks had used the wrong standard by not considering the findings of the Texas Office of Inspector General, the agency that initially made the decision to terminate state contracts with Planned Parenthood.

In 2016, Planned Parenthood received $3.5 million in reimbursements for providing contraceptives and women’s preventive healthcare services to 70,000 low-income Texans. Organization officials state the federal appeals court’s decision threatens the healthcare of Texas’ most vulnerable patients, noting the decline in access to women’s health services will put their health in jeopardy. Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office fought the case against Judge Sparks, defended the order in court and was confident the state would prevail when the case returns to the U.S. District Court. Methodist Healthcare Ministries is monitoring the case throughout the legal process, noting its importance to provide access to quality women’s healthcare services.

Texas’ ACA Enrollment Drops 3.6 Percent

Texas’ 2019 enrollment in the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance plans dropped 3.6 percent from last year’s enrollment period. An estimated 1.09 million Texans signed up through the federal marketplace during the open enrollment period, compared to 1.13 million people who enrolled last year. On a national level, marketplace enrollment decreased by 4 percent.

Several advocates expressed concern that contradicting messages and funding cuts prevented consumers from signing up for health insurance. The federal administration significantly reduced funding for the marketplace and enrollment outreach support two years in a row. Moreover, lawsuits and attempts by Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act worked to confuse consumers about the fate of the law. Methodist Healthcare Ministries provided funding for ads and marketing this past enrollment period to ensure consumers were aware of the available health plan coverage for eligible families. 

State Agencies Launch Opioid Education Website

The Office of the Texas Attorney General, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and the Texas Department of State Health Services launched a comprehensive website, Dose of Reality, this week to educate individuals about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs. Dose of Reality informs the public about opioid-related resources and approaches to prevent substance use. The website also provides details on proper pain management, safe storage, guidelines on responding to an overdose and a statewide map of safe disposal locations.

In 2017, 464,000 Texans abused illicit drugs, including nearly 3,000 people who died due to drug overdose. Drug overdose is also the leading cause of maternal deaths. The abuse of prescription drugs costs lives, devastates families and is a public safety concern throughout the state. As part of its 86th Legislative Agenda, Methodist Healthcare Ministries supports state and local efforts to reduce opioid misuse through public policies that increase access and awareness to substance use treatment. 

Upcoming Meetings & Events

Jan 27-29: United Methodist Women Legislative Event 2019 (Austin)

Jan 28: HHSC Community Conversations on Peer Support (San Antonio)

Jan 28: Senate Finance Committee Hearing: Article V – Public Safety and Criminal Justice (Austin) 

Jan 28: House Appropriations Committee Hearing: Overview of Budget (Austin)

Jan 30: House Appropriations Committee Hearing: Healthcare (Austin)

Jan 31: Texans Care for Children: Keeping Kids Safe & Helping Them Succeed (Austin)

Jan 31: CPPP Legislative Briefing: State Budget (Austin)

Feb 5: Senate Finance Committee Hearing: Article II – Health and Human Services(Austin)

Feb 6: Senate Finance Committee Hearing: Article II – Health and Human Services Public Testimony (Austin)

Feb 7: Texans Care for Children: Providing Kids a Healthy Start (Austin)

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