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Amarillo’s Four Price pushes 10 health care bills through Legislature

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State Rep. Four Price is pleased with how Texas’ 85th Legislative Session has gone in terms of health care for the state’s residents.

Ten health care- related bills authored or sponsored by the Amarillo Republican have made their way to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, with the possibility of more before the session concludes Monday.

“I haven’t seen a session as productive with regards to behavioral and mental health as this one, so it’s an exciting time for sure,” said Price, chairman of the House Committee on Public Health.

Price’s House Bill 2425, also known as the CARE (Caregiver Advice, Record, Enable) Act, requires hospitals to let patients designate a caretaker to receive home care medical instructions upon the patient’s discharge.

Abbott is expected to sign the bill after it passed the House and Senate earlier this week. Similar laws have passed in 35 states over the last three years, as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Texas AARP lobbied for a similar bill in the 2015 legislative session, but it failed without support from the Texas Hospital Association.

The THA supported this session’s CARE Act, chief business development officer Lance Lunsford said, because it contained softer language that would keep many hospitals from altering their current practices.

“We worked with them over the last several years to get on the same page about what the bill should address, and as things went along, I think we met in the middle on what it needed to look like,” Lunsford said.

Price also pushed two bills aimed at loosening restrictions for medical support via video conference, HB 2697 and HB 1697.

HB 2697 would ease restrictions on practicing “telemedicine,” or administering medical advice and offering prescriptions through video.

The bill would primarily benefit residents of rural counties, who would otherwise need to take off work to drive into cities for medical treatment, and mental health patients whose behaviors can be monitored through screens.

HB 1697 would found a pediatric telecommunications resource program. Both bills have been sent to Abbott’s desk.

“This is changing the paradigm on telemedicine delivery and coverage of that for health providers across Texas,” Price said. “In my opinion, these are the biggest advancements in health care this session.”

Amarillo’s strong medical options draw patients from all over the Texas Panhandle, and rural clinics have had difficulty staying open in recent years.

Thirteen hospitals in sparsely populated areas across Texas have closed since 2010, by far the most of any state, per the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program.

In Lipscomb County, where Underwood Law Firm shareholder Gavin Gadberry grew up, the Teare Memorial Clinic is the only health facility open five days a week (dentist Richard Sheppard spends Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in Booker).

Gadberry, who practices health care law and has been THA’s general counsel for 20 years, said the problem will be compounded as rural residents age and young adults move into cities at higher rates than before.

“Rural Texas and health care, if it’s not at a crisis, it’s approaching a crisis. I believe Chairman Price is very familiar with that, and he’s trying to help,” Gadberry said.

“It’s going to be a problem if we don’t address it in the next few years.”

Price also sponsored Senate Bill 932 by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, which would have allowed the state to fine negligent assisted living homes more easily.

The bill stalled in the House’s calendar committee, but items such as organizing a system for the tracking of the severity of assisted living homes’ violations were enveloped into HB 2025, a bill aimed at minimizing abuse in memory care facilities, that passed to the governor’s desk at around 5 p.m. on Friday.

A 2014 Kaiser Health Foundation analysis found Texas had the worst nursing homes in the U.S. based on criteria such as percentage of facilities with deficiencies, the average nurse’s hours per resident per day and percentage of facilities with above- average health inspection grades.

Medicare reviewers gave nursing homes in Wheeler, Dumas, Amarillo and Clarendon one star out of five for overall quality.

Texas AARP Associate State Director Amanda Fredriksen said legislation such as Price’s was needed to stop malfeasance in senior homes that place residents at risk.

“Texas is pretty much at the bottom when comes to the quality of care in nursing homes, which is why SB 932 and HB 2025 are so important to the AARP,” Fredriksen said.

“When you have the chronic quality of care problems that we have and facilities are rarely sanctioned, then what’s the motivation for those facilities to improve their overall quality of care?”

Posted May 26, 2017 06:19 pm – Updated May 26, 2017 10:29 pm
By Ben Egel ben.egel@amarillo.com

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