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February 19, 2013 (512) 463-0300

PANEL HEARS MEDICAID FRAUD BILL

(AUSTIN) — A Senate committee considered a bill on Tuesday that aims to save millions in state funds by reducing fraud and abuse in Medicaid. State healthcare costs have risen by an average of 14 percent each year, and last month the chair of the Senate Finance Committee warned that soon all of the state budget will be consumed by health care spending. One major cost is Medicaid fraud, which reached into the billions over the last decade, said Flower Mound Senator and Health and Human Services Chair Jane Nelson. "It is inexcusable to learn that the office of Inspector General has identified more than $6 billion in fraud, waste and abuse from 2004 to 2011," she said. "We simply cannot afford for this to continue."

She laid before her committee on Tuesday a bill that she said takes a proactive approach to finding and eliminating fraud and waste from state health spending. State agencies will often not learn about fraudulent practices or claims until weeks or months after the fact, Nelson said. Her bill, Senate Bill 8, would establish a data analysis unit at the Health and Human Services Commission, which would monitor claims and other data to quickly identify and catch fraud. The bill would also increase oversight by empowering the Office of Inspector General to investigate fraud at the commission, and would strengthen prohibitions against providers soliciting Medicaid patients. The bill would also try to crack down on bad providers by excluding from Texas Medicaid any providers who have been found guilty of malfeasance on a federal level or in another state.

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Senator Carlos Uresti of San Antonio proposed a bill that would raise the legal age of tobacco use from 18 to 21.

The Legislative Budget Board estimated the bill will save more than $14 million annually, but Nelson told members she believes that is a conservative estimate, and if passed into law, SB 8 will result in more cost savings. The bill was passed out of committee and will now head to the full Senate.

Also before the Health and Human Services Committee was a measure that would increase the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. SB 313, by San Antonio Senator Carlos Uresti, is an effort to reduce the number of young adults that pick up smoking. He pointed to studies that show that delaying the age at which someone starts smoking will reduce smoking and other tobacco use overall. That bill remains pending before the committee.

The Senate Education Committee voted out a bill that would change graduation and curriculum standards for high school students. SB 3, by committee Chair Senator Dan Patrick of Houston, would replace the current three-tier system with a single diploma. Students could earn special endorsements to their diploma, including career training courses or advanced placement courses. Patrick said at a hearing on the bill last week that this will give students more options to tailor their high school education to their post-secondary goals, whether they be college or a good paying job after graduation. That bill now heads to the full Senate.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, February 20 at 11 a.m.


Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.

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