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April 17, 2007 (512) 463-0300

MEDICAID REFORM BILL PASSES SENATE

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A sweeping Medicaid reform bill, authored by Lewisville Senator Jane Nelson, was passed unanimously Tuesday by the Senate.

(AUSTIN) -- With healthcare costs skyrocketing, lawmakers around the nation are looking at ways to cut costs of government-based health plans without decreasing coverage or benefits. The Federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 gives states more flexibility in deciding how to use federal Medicaid funds. The Senate passed one such measure Tuesday, a bill aimed at insuring more Texans while reducing costs in areas like emergency room care. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said Tuesday's bill was a "huge first step" toward getting a handle on the state's rising health care costs. He added that ignoring this problem could lead to a financial crisis in Texas. "Unless we tweak it, it threatens to bankrupt the state of Texas, and all other 49 states," said Dewhurst.

Senate Bill 10, by Health and Human Services Committee Chair Jane Nelson, would change how the state offers healthcare. It would create a pilot program to look at tailored benefit programs, to increase efficiency and deliver needed services to patients, without paying for services they don't need. It would use federal funds to create a pool to increase health coverage for uninsured Texans. The bill would also set up a pilot program to look at a three-share program, where federal Medicaid dollars could be funneled to pay one-third of private insurance premium costs, with another third coming from the client, and the final third coming from state or charity funds.

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Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock passed a bill to consolidate authority to regulate radioactive material under the Texas Council on Environmental Quality.

Nelson said her bill also addresses the problem of emergency room care. Often, uninsured individuals seek routine medical care in an emergency room, which costs far more than care in a clinic. The bill would authorize co-payment charges for non-emergency care received in the emergency room.

Another important component of SB 10 is preventative care. Nelson said that by increasing the use of preventative programs, like smoking-cessation or weight loss plans, the state could reduce health care costs in the future for the elderly. "We spend so many of our dollars on the elderly, which really is not the majority of the people we serve, but is certainly the majority of our healthcare spending," she said. "And a lot of that is preventable." Her bill would direct the Health and Human Services Commission to look at ways to implement incentives for individuals who take and follow preventative care courses.

Lt. Governor Dewhurst took time following Tuesday's session to comment on the tragic killing of more than 30 students and teachers at Virginia Tech. He expressed condolences for victims and their families, and called on community colleges and universities in Texas to review their emergency procedures to see if there is anything they can change to increase campus security. He added that he wants to amend a bill directed at state homeland security to permit higher education institutions to use resources at the School Safety Center, a state clearinghouse for school security and safety procedures and practices. "That's a start, because none of us ever want to see what happened at Virginia Tech happen again," said Dewhurst.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 18, at 11 a.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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