Major Legislation Unveiled Last Week in Austin
Senators last week filed bills dealing with two major issues facing the Texas Legislature this session: the budget and rising health care costs.
SB 1, the preliminary budget bill authored by Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams of the Woodlands, was filed Monday. This starting point for the final budget the Senate will submit sometime in May would spend $88.9 billion over the next two years, a 1.8 percent increase over last biennium’s budget. That figure is also well below the $101 billion in available revenue certified by the Comptroller last week.
Williams was quick to remind reporters that this bill represents only the beginnings toward a final budget, and that the bill could see major changes as it moves through the committee process. As it was filed, however, the bill includes no diversions from dedicated funds to general revenue, which is a sharp departure from past years. The budget also includes more money for public education to keep up with enrollment growth, provisions to fund a comprehensive state water plan, as well as more money for health care services. Though Williams said that this initial bill would require $250 million in Medicaid savings to balance.
Health and Human Services Committee Chair Jane Nelson of Flower Mound filed two bills Wednesday aimed at realizing these savings. Her two bills, SB 7 and SB 8, are targeted at preventing Medicaid fraud and streamlining long-term care. Nelson said that she was shocked to learn the results of a report from the Inspector General’s office, which showed that Texas has lost more than $6 billion to Medicaid fraud between 2004 and 2011. “With a tight budget and trying to find the money to serve those that truly need our help, it is infuriating to hear report after report of the kinds of abuses that are taking place,” she said.
SB 8 would tackle the problem of Medicaid fraud head on, according to Nelson. Her bill would validate the authority of the Inspector General to detect and investigate fraud at all levels of the state health and human services system. If a provider is found guilty of Medicaid fraud, or is disqualified from operating in another state due to fraud, they would be barred from operating in Texas. The bill would also move ambulance services to managed care and would reduce the use of ambulances for non-emergency transport.
Nelson’s other bill SB 7, looks for savings by streamlining state Medicaid services, with an emphasis on long term care. With more Texans living longer, Nelson said it is vitally important to get long term care costs under control, before they become unmanageable. Her bill would expand managed care for Medicaid patients and would use incentives based on the outcome of treatment and care. “These are some of the most vulnerable people we serve,” said Nelson. “We need to make sure they get the best possible care and that we are delivering services in a way that ensures we can keep caring for them.”
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, January 23 at 11 a.m.