Jan. 11, 2017

Texas Legislative Digest – Issue 1

Issue 1 – Jan. 9, 2017:

85th Texas Legislature Convenes on Jan. 10
The Texas Legislature convened this week for the 85th time since Texas became a state in 1845. Of the 31 seats in the Senate and 150 seats in the House, all have been filled either through the general election held last fall or through special elections to fill seats vacated by their current officeholders. Only one seat is in question, that of Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D) who has served House District 46 in East Austin since 1995. Dukes announced last September that she would not serve if elected. The decision came as Dukes was under investigation for improper use of office staff and resources. To date, results of the investigation have not been publicly announced, nor has Dukes formally resigned her office.

Of the 150 House members, 26 are freshman legislators. However, four are past members who are returning after a break in service – Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), Mary Ann Perez (D-Houston) and Hugh Shine (R-Temple). Three of the 31 senators are freshmen, though only Dawn Buckingham (R) who replaced Sen. Troy Fraser (R), has not previously served in the Texas Legislature. Bryan Hughes (R) represented East Texas-based House District 5 for seven terms and replaced Sen. Kevin Eltife in Senate District 1. Borris Miles (D) replaced Sen. Rodney Ellis (D) and will represent Houston-based Senate District 13. Miles represented House District 146 for four terms. The oath of office will be administered to legislators on the opening day of the new session.

Legislators File Bills on Insurance Topics
Early bill filing for the 85th Legislature began Nov. 14 – the week after the general election took place. As of Jan. 5, House members have filed 831 bills and resolutions. Senators have filed a total of 400. There are three types of legislative resolutions: joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions and simple resolutions. Except for concurrent resolutions, they are not sent to the governor for signing, and the governor cannot veto them.

Joint resolutions are used to propose amendments to the Texas Constitution, ratify proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution, or request a constitutional convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

A concurrent resolution is used when both chambers have an interest in a particular matter. Such resolutions may originate in either chamber, but must be adopted by both. Concurrent resolutions may be used for matters affecting operations and procedures of the legislature, such as joint sessions or adjournment sine die. They also are used to memorialize (petition) the U.S. Congress; give directions to a state agency, board or commission; express the views of the legislature; designate an official state symbol; adopt an official place or date designation; or express congratulations or condolences. Concurrent resolutions, except those that pertain solely to matters between the two chambers, must be submitted to the governor for approval.

Simple resolutions pertain to matters considered by the originating chamber only. They are used to adopt or change rules of procedure; name a mascot; express congratulations or condolences; memorialize the U.S. Congress; direct a state agency, board or commission; initiate a study by a single house; or express the views of that chamber.

So far a handful of filed bills are of particular interest to the health insurance industry. Two bills and a set of companion resolutions have been filed related to the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). A companion is a bill or resolution filed in one chamber that is identical or very similar to a bill or resolution filed in the opposite chamber and is used to expedite passage. Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) and Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) filed companion resolutions calling on the U.S. Congress to repeal ACA. On the other side of the aisle, Representatives Celia Israel (D-Austin) and Sergio Muñoz, Jr. (D-Palmview) filed bills that would expand Medicaid to those who would be eligible and for whom federal matching funds are available under ACA. In anticipation of ACA repeal, Rep. Eddie Rodriquez (D-Austin) filed House Bill 224, which would prohibit insurers from denying coverage, limiting or excluding coverage, or charging higher premiums to enrollees with pre-existing conditions.

As in previous sessions, numerous bills have been filed that would require insurers to cover certain medical services or supplies, or to offer certain benefits. Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) filed a bill that would expand the definitions of “diabetes supplies” and “diabetes equipment” to include coverage for continuous glucose monitoring devices, including insulin infusion sets, insulin reservoirs, glucose sensors and glucose data transmitters. Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) submitted a bill to equate the benefit level for additional breast diagnostics to the benefit level of mammograms, effectively eliminating any related out-of-pocket costs. A bill filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) would require insurers to provide coverage for abuse-deterrent opioid analgesic drugs.

Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) refiled from the 2015 session a bill that gives the Office of Public Insurance Counsel (OPIC) similar consumer protection duties and authority as the Texas Department of Insurance related to network adequacy and complaints, including authorizing OPIC to bring a "class action" law suit against an insurer on behalf of consumers.

Once a bill has been filed, it will be referred to a committee for review and comment during a public hearing. However, not all bills filed will receive a public hearing. In the 2015 session, about 75 percent of all bills filed died in the committee of the originating chamber. On average, about 6,000 bills are filed during session with 1,500 or so passed. Bill filing will continue until March 10.

Important dates related to the 85th legislative session include: