April 19, 2017

Texas Legislative Digest – Issue 15

Issue 15 – April 17, 2017

House Passes Budget Bill
The House passed its version of the 2018-2019 budget early on the morning of April 7 with a vote of 131 to 16. The final vote was well above the two-thirds threshold required to tap into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the “rainy day fund,” which will allow the House to use $2.5 billion from the fund in addition to usual revenue sources. The budget allocates $63.2 billion in state and federal funds for the Texas Medicaid program, about $1.4 billion less than the current budget. The House-approved budget anticipates that changes at the federal level will provide enough program flexibility to deliver $1 billion in Medicaid savings. However, if the anticipated savings aren’t realized, legislators may be able to provide supplemental dollars to Medicaid in the following legislative session to make up for any shortfall. This session, the Medicaid shortfall was addressed in the supplemental budget bill, House Bill 2, which provides $2.6 billion in additional Medicaid funding to close the shortfall in the current budget year.

The debate lasted around 15 hours, but there weren’t many surprises related to health and human services programs. The budget provides an additional $1.5 billion for public schools, $500 million to address a shortfall in the health benefits program for retired teachers, and an increase of more than $450 million to address the crises in Child Protective Services and foster care. It also puts more resources toward mental health services and college scholarships, and protects voter-approved funding for transportation improvements. Additionally, lawmakers added funding for Zika-preparedness efforts along the border.

The Senate passed its version of the budget in late March. The bill now heads to a conference committee where differences in the two versions will be worked out. A conference committee is made up of five members from each chamber appointed by the respective presiding officers to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions when the originating chamber doesn’t agree with the changes made by the opposite chamber.

BCBSTX’S Morrow Testifies
Dr. Robert “Bob” Morrow, Texas Market Strategy President-Southeast Region for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX), testified in support of House Bill 3124 before the House Insurance committee on April 11. Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) filed the bill that would allow the release of certain physician-specific comparison data to physicians who are participating in physician-led accountable care organizations (ACOs). Dr. Morrow shared with the committee that BCBSTX and the Texas Medical Association (TMA) agreed that the bill is needed. TMA represents Texas physicians and medical students.

Dr. Morrow testified that the current insurance statute regulates how insurers share quality and cost information with the general public. Since the law is very broad, it inhibits circumstances where BCBSTX wants to share cost information with physicians participating in ACOs. Dr. Morrow went on to explain that the bill seeks an exception to that provision to allow BCBSTX to share cost information with physicians, while at the same time preserves the protections now in the law surrounding the publication of a physician’s cost and quality information to the general public. Following favorable testimony from a TMA representative, HB 3124 was left pending.

Outlook Improves for Texting Ban
On April 7, Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) announced his support for Senate Bill 31 filed by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and House Bill 62 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), both of which create a statewide ban on texting while driving. Huffine’s support gives the legislation the critical vote it needs to be considered by the full Senate.

A vote on the ban is likely at least two weeks away. HB 62 is expected to become the vehicle for the texting ban, but it must first clear the Senate State Affairs committee. SB 31 has already passed that committee on a 6-3 vote, but has lingered awaiting action on the House bill. Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), the committee chair, is a co-author of the Senate bill as are Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). However, the three committee members who voted “no” on SB 31 — Sen. Charles Schwertner, M.D. (R-Georgetown), Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), and Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) — have given no indication that they may have changed their minds.

For years, Craddick has advocated for legislation that would penalize drivers who use their phones to text while they are on the road. In 2013 and 2015, Craddick's bill passed the House, but died in the Senate. In 2011, it successfully maneuvered through both chambers only to be vetoed by then Gov. Rick Perry, who said it would “micromanage the behavior of adults.” BCBSTX registered its support of HB 62 when it was considered by the House Transportation committee. Though several property and casualty insurers registered support for the bill, BCBSTX was the only health insurer to do so. Texas is one of only four states that does not have a statewide ban on texting and driving.

Insurance Bills Voted Out
The House Insurance committee met on April 11 and approved several bills of interest to health plans:

The bills are headed to the Calendars committee where they will be considered for future House debate.

Bills of Interest


April 17 is the 98th day of the 85th Legislature, with 42 days remaining until final adjournment. Important dates related to the legislative session are: