Legislators are hard at work preparing for the 84th Texas Legislative Session, which begins in January. A pressing issue I continue to work on this interim is health care. I remain committed to encouraging greater access to healthcare services, in my South Texas district and across Texas.
New Valley medical school The Valley took a dramatic step toward expanding healthcare in South Texas with passage of Senate Bill 24, which authorized creation of the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley. The new university will include current University of Texas Health Science Center Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) campuses, which will soon become a full four-year medical school—the only medical school in Texas included in an emerging research institution with Tier-1 potential.
As a member of the Senate Finance Committee I secured $10 million to facilitate the RAHC’s transition. The new medical school will quickly become eligible for even more grant dollars and matching UT System funds, which will make the campus highly sought-out by research faculty and future medical students.
Since Senate Bill 24 was passed, we’ve of course had several exciting developments in the launch of UT-RGV. The UT System approved more than $200 million in Permanent University Fund dollars, which will build cutting-edge research facilities. We have a founding medical school dean, Dr. Francisco Fernandez, and a founding university president, Dr. Guy Bailey.
Finally, area hospitals and organizations committed to increase graduate medical residency slots across the four-county area. Increased residencies mitigate the severe physician shortage faced by the
Valley, a historically medically-underserved area. At Senate Bill 24’s passage, there were only about 120 doctors for every 100,000 Valley residents. It is my hope that ratio will improve considerably over the next decade.
The new university will continue to have unique funding needs as it transitions from UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American. I expect those universities will provide a final expenditure report to the legislature early next year, and President Bailey will then deliver UT-RGV’s first legislative appropriations request. Rest assured, I will fully support the development of the new university and medical school as they expand health care opportunities in our community.
Health care funding will continue to dominate budget discussions next session. In 2011, I voted against the budget due in part to cuts made to health services. Last session, however, I was pleased to see some restoration of cuts. Specifically, programs were budgeted about $74 billion for the next biennium, an eight percent increase from 2011. This included about $71 million for the Texas Women’s Health Program, which provides family planning and screening services to women, as well as about $3.8 million to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care physicians.
I’m pleased with these increases, but certainly more can be done. You can count on me to be a tireless advocate for increasing healthcare access statewide. The coverage gap Finally, next session I expect further debate about how Texans can procure quality health insurance post-rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Texas opted out of increasing Medicaid eligibility, and as a result far too many uninsured adults below 100 percent of poverty level still lack coverage; more than 1 million Texans are stuck in the coverage gap.
The impact is biggest in the Valley. In my home of Cameron County alone, nearly 30,000 will go uninsured. We also lose out on nearly $200 million dollars in new annual Medicaid funds, which could support more than 1,000 family doctors and nearly 3,000 nurses.
This session, I joint-authored legislation to close the coverage gap by taking about $50 million from the state’s Rainy Day fund and dedicating it to Medicaid. The state’s Legislative Budget Board — the non-partisan, professional state agency that helps write the state’s budget—estimated this modest investment would have drawn down $4 billion in federal matching dollars.
Extending available healthcare options to all Texans just makes sense. I look forward to making this argument again to my colleagues next session.
Today, legislators are in their districts meeting with constituents and preparing for next session. Please take this time to let your lawmakers know how expanded access to healthcare will improve your lives and make for a more prosperous Texas.