WEEK IN REVIEW
Bipartisan Proposal Addresses Healthcare Gender Gap
AUSTIN - A bill announced Thursday by Dallas Sen. David Cain would ban the gender discrimination in health insurance rates that has been indicated by a recent university study.
The study, conducted by Texas Woman's University, found that insurance reimbursement rates for female-specific surgeries average 32 percent lower than other procedures.
"It's now clear that there is a severe problem in how our HMOs and insurance companies reimburse doctors and hospitals for female specific healthcare," Cain said, "and how those low reimbursements reduce women's access to the care that they need."
The study continued that insurance companies and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) routinely follow reimbursement formulas set by the federal Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), formulas Cain said are flawed.
"Under the current insurance reimbursement system, the average Joe is worth more than the average Jane," Cain said.
Under HCFA formulas, an average of $2,000 is reimbursed for childbirth, which included 13 to 15 office visits, labor and postpartum care. But the reimbursement for a vasectomy, an outpatient procedure usually performed in an hour, is $500. The removal of a non ruptured appendix, a one-hour surgery with two follow-up visits, has a reimbursement rate of $1,400.
"With such low reimbursement rates, doctors and hospitals are forced to decide whether to get out of the business or to reduce services," Cain said. "Either way, the availability of healthcare for women suffers."
The problem is more severe in rural areas of Texas, where approximately 1 million women live in one of the 156 counties that do not have an OB/GYN, Cain said.
The bill, Senate Bill (SB) 8, is called the Omnibus Women's Equal Health Care Act. Senators Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, David Bernsen of Beaumont, John Carona of Dallas, Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo are co-sponsoring the bill. State Rep. David Farabee of Wichita Falls is leading a group of sponsors in the House of Representatives.
"This is not about women versus men. This is not about consumers versus insurance companies," Cain said. "It's about fairness. It's about our families."
Ratliff Announces Committee to Study Statewide Run
Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff on Wednesday announced that he is forming an exploratory committee to gauge support for a possible statewide campaign to keep the job he has held since December.
Ratliff was elected by the members of the Senate on December 28 to replace Rick Perry, who resigned as lieutenant governor to succeed George W. Bush as governor.
His election was a first in the history of Texas. He continues to represent the First Senatorial District, although as lieutenant governor, he does not serve on any committees, sponsor legislation and generally does not vote when bills come up in the Senate.
As lieutenant governor, Ratliff serves as the presiding officer of the Senate, which he said takes priority over a campaign during the legislative session.
"I felt like it was just necessary that we kind of separate that process from the duties of being lieutenant governor," Ratliff said, "so that the staff can concentrate on the things that are necessary for us to get through this session and have a successful session and provide the leadership that I am expected to provide to this body."
Ratliff said the committee will make its recommendation to him after the session. The last day of the 77th Regular Session is May 28. He said he and his wife, Sally, will make the decision after that.
Capitol Celebrates Texas Independence Day
At Washington-on-the-Brazos 165 years ago today, the 59 delegates to the Convention of 1836 unanimously voted to approve the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico and form the Republic of Texas.
In celebration of that historic landmark, today, March 2, was celebrated as Texas Independence Day. Beginning with a parade up a flag- and banner-lined Congress Avenue, the festivities continued with Texas music on the grounds of the State Capitol.
A proclamation from the governor, historical speeches and tours of the historic Capitol complex were also part of the celebration. Barrientos and his staff were the hosts of the Capitol event.
Senate Welcomes Newest Citizens
Approximately 75,000 children became United States citizens Tuesday, a result of federal legislation praised by members of the Texas Senate.
The Child Citizenship Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 30, 2000, permits foreign-born children who are permanent U.S. residents to automatically become citizens.
A large group of adoptive parents and their children, many dressed in red, white and blue and waving small American flags, gathered at the Capitol Tuesday as the Senate commemorated the occasion.
Moncrief said the law is "outstanding legislation" that will help speed the adoption process of foreign-born children.
"What greater gifts can we give a child than the love and expectation that adoption brings," Moncrief said. "I speak from experience, having been adopted myself and having my own adopted son."
In session, the Senate unanimously voted to adopt a resolution designating February 27, 2001 "Child Citizenship Act Day in Texas." Barrientos sponsored the measure, Senate Resolution 282.
San Antonio Senator Gets Freshman Treatment
Van de Putte on Monday experienced the Senate's traditional treatment of a new member passing a bill for the first time.
Her colleagues voted -- eventually -- to approve the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 274 which she authored.
The bill would stipulate that hospital district taxes collected in Bexar County could only be used for hospital and medical purposes. A floor amendment sponsored by Houston Sen. Jon Lindsay was also added to the bill that would also apply the law to Harris County.
The fun started immediately after Van de Putte was recognized on the bill. As soon as she began laying out the bill for consideration, Dallas Sen. Royce West opened the interrogation.
"I think she needs to make sure this goes to the Calendars Committee first," West said. "That's a point of order." A point of order is a motion calling attention to a breach in parliamentary procedure.
The House of Representatives, where Van de Putte served from 1990 to 1999, has a Calendars Committee that schedules when bills will be taken up for consideration, but there is no Calendars Committee in the Senate.
Corpus Christi Sen. Carlos F. Truan then asked to be recognized on either a motion to read the entire text of the bill or re-refer it back to committee.
"You're not recognized for either purpose," Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff told Truan.
The Senate eventually did vote to pass CSSB 274, but not before subjecting Van de Putte to a number of unusual questions and motions about the bill.
One colleague who did not make the process more difficult for Van de Putte was Sen. Todd Staples of Palestine, who let Van de Putte know she had his full support. The only other freshman in the Senate, Staples knows he can expect similar treatment when his first Senate bill comes up for consideration.
Local, Uncontested Bills Win Speedy Passage
Nineteen bills were passed in the Senate's first Local and Uncontested Calendar of the 77th Regular Session, including SB 689, sponsored by Lake Jackson Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown.
SB 689 would direct the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) to use federal criteria to define hazardous waste. The bill also establishes the authority of the TNRCC to define hazardous waste in a manner consistent with, but not more stringent than, the federal definition.
The Local and Uncontested Calendar is comprised of bills that are strictly local in scope or that are without opposition. The bills are scheduled by the Senate Administration Committee, which distributes a list to all senators by noon the day before the bills are considered. If there is no objection, the bills are passed as a matter of formality.
Other Senate News
The Senate voted Tuesday to pass legislation aimed at protecting rural residents from unscrupulous door-to-door sales practices. The bill's sponsor, Victoria Sen. Ken Armbrister, said the elderly are especially vulnerable. The bill, SB 452, would allow unincorporated areas to regulate door-to-door salespersons as cities currently can.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved a proposal sponsored by San Antonio Sen. Frank L. Madla aimed at reducing the demand for illegal drugs. CSSB 558 would create a Drug Demand Reduction Advisory Committee. The committee would coordinate Texas' efforts to counter illegal drug use.
As of Thursday, 1,055 bills had been filed in the Senate. For information on Senate and House bills, please go to http://www.capitol.state.tx.us. There are 88 days remaining in the 77th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature.
The Senate stands adjourned until 1 p.m. Monday.