5 Things Texas: Q&A w/Nora Belcher, Medicaid expansion outlook, Rep. Michael Burgess

Congrats to those Baylor Bears who played an outstanding game last night to win the NCAA Men’s College Basketball National Championship. My Gonzaga Bulldogs were outplayed.

Gonzaga has had an amazing run, making the NCAA post-season tournament every year since 1999. They’ve been a #1 seed or #1 rank often, but have not yet won the national championship. When I feel down about their performance, I’m reminded the United States has been working on health reform since at least the post-WWII era. Maybe Gonzaga’s 22 years of frustration isn’t so long after all.

 

 

 

 

With help from Emily Boerger

1. The outlook for Medicaid expansion

This year’s efforts to expand Medicaid have failed to gain traction, as neither the House nor the Senate version of Sen. Nathan Johnson’s “Live Well Texas” program have been scheduled for a committee hearing. In spite of this, Johnson recently told State of Reform he is hopeful about the initiative’s future in Texas.

Johnson says he has been meeting with his Republican colleagues over the past year and has gained the support of several Republican lawmakers. He says two years ago, legislators wouldn’t even talk about expanding Medicaid. Now, members of both parties are actively discussing it – which, Johnson says, is progress. A few legislative insiders working the issue tell me there’s a reasonable chance a committee hearing will happen before the end of session. Regarding any further legislative advancement, however, they say chances are very slim.


2. Congressional leaders join State of Reform event

It’s a big week here at State of Reform as we look forward to hosting the 2021 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference on April 7-8. This two-day conference is bringing together some of the most influential voices shaping federal health policy like US Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Ron Wyden and US Senate HELP Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray. Both join us as keynote speakers this year.

We’ll also hear from several Republican lawmakers who all serve on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health during our “Conversation with Congressional Republicans” panel. Joining the conversation will be Reps. Fred Upton, Buddy Carter, and Michael Burgess, MD, from Texas’s 26th CD. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will also join us on the afternoon of the 8th as one of our keynote speakers.


3. Nora Belcher discusses future of telehealth

Nora Belcher, Executive Director of the Texas e-Health Alliance, has been busy at work this session advocating for bills to expand telemedicine services for Texans. In this Q&A, Belcher discusses the continually evolving area of telemedicine, what the future of remote medical services looks like, and the key legislation the Texas e-Health Alliance is supporting.

Belcher says that in the long term, she anticipates one in five health visits will be virtual in Texas. She says HB 4/SB 412, which look to make permanent telehealth flexibilities allowed during the pandemic, has broad support and she fully expects it to pass. “Medicine has not been customer service friendly, and the public really hasn’t been exposed until now, in a mass way, to other ways of doing things,” says Belcher. “They’re not going to go back.”

 

4. Legislative session passes halfway point

The Texas Legislature recently passed the session’s halfway point and health committees in both chambers remain busy at work discussing a broad range of health policies. Last week, lawmakers held a public hearing on HB 1616, a bill that would add Texas to the list of states signed on to the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. Bill sponsor Rep. Greg Bonnen says joining this compact is critical to filling Texas’s physician workforce shortage.

On Tuesday, legislators discussed a bill that would reevaluate Texas’s safety net programs in an effort to make them more effective for needy Texans. That same day, Rep. Lina Ortega’s bill moved out of committee, which supports and expands the use of community health workers, or promotoras.

 

5. Experts discuss prescription drug policy

Texas Congressman Michael Burgess recently joined State of Reform for our 5 Slides event, “Bending the Rx Cost Curve,” where he discussed federal efforts to lower prescription drug costs. He referenced the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016 which secured funding to expedite research for new medical treatments, but he says didn’t go far enough by offering solutions to the high cost of novel treatments. So, he’s working on a “Cures 2.0” bill with others.

Burgess laid out the example of a novel therapy for treating sickle cell disease, which he says hasn’t been utilized because it costs too much. He said legislation like the Lower Costs, More Cures Act — which failed to become law in 2019 — would provide a solution to this issue by prorating and extending Medicaid coverage for “groundbreaking” therapies like this.