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August 13, 1998     (512) 463-0300

SENATE INTERIM HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES COMMITTEE HOLDS OPEN MEETING AT STATE CAPITOL

AUSTIN - Members of the Senate Interim Committee on Health and Human Services met at the state capitol on Thursday, August 13, in an open hearing to discuss recommendations and possible actions of the committee's charges. Throughout the Interim, the committee has held numerous meetings across the state gathering testimony and researching problems the state is having in areas of Medicaid and welfare fraud, patient billing, minor's access to tobacco, and welfare improvements. The committee is chaired by Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo and members include John Carona of Dallas, Chris Harris of Arlington, Jon Lindsay of Houston, and Frank Madla of San Antonio.

Thursday's hearing focused on the approval of several recommendations that are fully supported by all members of the committee. According to Zaffirini, this will leave time for the committee to discuss the remaining debated proposals in a possible September hearing.

Representatives from state agencies, commissions, and boards reviewed each proposal before the members. Don Gilbert, commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, discussed recommendations and possible actions the committee can take regarding Senate Bill 30, legislation which attempts to reduce cases of Medicaid and welfare fraud which cost the state thousands of dollars each year. Commissioner Eric Bost of the Texas Department of Human Services and Dr.William Archer, commissioner of the Texas Department of Health provided further testimony on this charge.

Testimony continued with recommendations regarding federal welfare reform offered by Commissioner Bost and Monica Cruz, a legislative aide from the Senate Interim Committee on Health and Human Services. The committee then shifted to the topic of Senate Bill 55 which limits a minor's access to tobacco products. Commissioner Archer, Robin Herskowitz of the Office of the Comptroller, and Chris Hudson of the Committee reviewed the proposals for this reform which focused only on state improvements. The federal proposals will be discussed at a later date.

The committee also looked into possible rule changes needed in order to cope with demographic trends of Texas that will impact the health and human service delivery system in the future. Terry Faye Bleier of the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Monica Cruz of the Committee provided testimony on this subject. Finally, the committee heard testimony from Ron Bordelon of the Office of Public Insurance, John Evans of the Texas Department of Health, and Tony Cobos of the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners on the topic of accuracy, clarity and timeliness of patient billing by health care providers. No public testimony was taken.

The Committee is considering holding an additional hearing sometime in September.

LONG-TERM CARE LEGISLATIVE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE HOLDS PUBLIC HEARING

AUSTIN - Members of the Long-Term Care Legislative Oversight Committee met in a public hearing on Thursday, August 13, to hear progress reports and testimony regarding the committee's charges. The committee is responsible for assuring quality of care in Texas nursing homes and other health care facilities. Those serving on the committee include its chair, Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Representatives Elliott Naishtat and Jim McReynolds, and public members Ken Kramer and Pat Karrh.

The hearing began with testimony from Senate Finance Chair Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant. Ratliff described a proposal to the committee based on a survey conducted on ten nursing home facilities in his district. The homes were surveyed according to the number of residents, cost, expenses, staffing requirements, capacity, and quality of care. Survey results showed that most problems stemmed from inadequate and inexperienced staffing. Based on this research, Ratliff proposed that nursing homes accept model staffing levels based on the level of care needed which would put them in certain classes. The higher the class, the larger the amount the state would reimburse them for patients and services according to a rate reimbursement system. The senator referred to the proposal as "an incentive program to improve the quality of care of these facilities".

Several other witnesses testified in support of this proposal including the Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission Don Gilbert, the Commissioner of the Texas Department of Human Services Eric Bost, a representative of the American Association of Retired Persons, the president of the Texas Advocates for Nursing Home Residents, and a representative from the Texas Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Tom Suehs, executive director of the Texas Health Care Association, and Mike Burris, president and CEO of the Aboretum Group who discussed quality of care from an operator's point of view also testified regarding the proposal.

The hearing continued with progress reports from the Subcommittee on a Survey Regarding Nursing Facilities and the Subcommittee on the Continuum of Long-Term Care Services. The committee was then briefed regarding the impact of Medicare cuts on long-term care services by Commissioner Gilbert and Commissioner Bost. Commissioner Bost also explained the Texas Department of Human Services' Re-engineering processes and enforcement activities that have changed due to the implementation of legislation that made improvements in these areas. Finally, Dr. Leslie Cortez of the Texas Department of Human Services briefed the members on the creation of a quality measurement system for long-term care services. Public testimony followed.

The committee will gather its findings and present recommendations in a final report to the 76th Legislature which convenes in January of next year.

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