WEEK IN REVIEW
STATEWIDE BLACKOUTS CAUSED BY BAD WINTERIZATION
(AUSTIN) — The reason many Texans woke up with no power on February 2 can be traced to a lack of winterization at power plants, according to testimony before a joint Senate panel on Tuesday. Eighty-two power plants went offline, forcing the state's power grid regulator to ration power, causing temporary blackouts across Texas. H.B. "Trip" Doggett, the CEO of the Electric Reliabilty Council of Texas (ERCOT), said power suppliers weren't ready for such an extreme weather event.
On Wednesday, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst joined Health and Human Services Committee Chair Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound to unveil two bills aimed at reducing Medicaid costs. Medicaid expenditures have ballooned in recent years, rising from 19 percent of the state budget in 2000 to 28 percent in 2009. Nelson said this kind of cost inflation is unsustainable, and outlined her plan to reverse the trend.
Americans spend more than twice as much per capita on healthcare as any other developed nation, which Dewhurst blamed on a procedure-based model of reimbursement. Doctors and hospitals bill Medicaid for every test and treatment, whether or not the procedure is necessary or effective. Moving to an outcome-based model, where healthcare providers get less money back from the government for ineffective care, can drastically lower costs, said Dewhurst. He pointed to studies that outcome-based models can reduce the cost of primary and acute care by a third.
Nelson's bills, SB 7 and 8, would cut repayments to doctors and hospitals when an avoidable complication or readmission occurs. "Those dollars should reward healthy outcomes," said Nelson. The bills would create a framework for this model, and would require hospitals to report avoidable readmissions and complications, to give healthcare consumers more information about where they should seek treatment. These bills have been sent to Nelson's Health and Human Services Committee for a hearing.
The Senate State Affairs committee approved a resolution Thursday, February 17 that would ask Congress to call a constitutional convention for the purpose of passing a balanced budget amendment. Authors Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano and Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan said that the federal deficit is out of control, and if Congress won't act, the states should. "Our current national debt is $14 trillion and has increased by 33 percent since 2009," Shapiro said. "This debt is unprecedented and we all know, cannot be sustained."
The Constitution allows states to force a convention if two-thirds of state legislatures agree. Addressing concerns that calling a convention could open up the national charter to all manner of amendments, the Texas resolution would withdraw support if the body attempted to go beyond a balanced budget amendment. Though the measure passed, committee Chair Robert Duncan of Lubbock warned that states may not like how the federal government would balance the budget." If they have a balanced budget amendment, it would be on the back of the taxpayers of the state level," he said. "They would push it down or raise taxes."
Also Thursday, the Senate approved a bill requiring doctors to perform a sonogram before performing an abortion. SB 16, by Houston Senator Dan Patrick, also requires the doctor to present the sonogram image and make available the fetal heartbeat, but the woman can decline to see or hear them. The bill also includes exceptions for cases of incest, rape or fetal abnormality. This bill now heads to the House for consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, February 22 at 11 a.m.
Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.