5 Things Texas: Texas conference highlights, Q&A w/ Rep. Zwiener, Trans health care


Eli Kirshbaum


Last week, over 200 Texas health policy stakeholders gathered at the 2022 Texas State of Reform Health Policy Conference for a day of thoughtful, forward-looking conversations on how to improve health care in the state. In case you weren’t able to make it, we put together a highlight video that features the sights and sounds from the day.

We were so honored to see so many of you there—thanks for making it such a memorable event! We hope you can join us again this fall at our 2022 North Texas State of Reform Health Policy Conference.

Read about some of the highlights from last Thursday’s conference below.

Eli Kirshbaum
State of Reform


1. Morning Keynote: Gov. Leavitt and Comm. Hellerstedt

We were honored to kick off last week’s event with remarks from two widely respected leaders in the health policy space. Gov. Mike Leavitt, former governor of the State of Utah and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and John Hellerstedt, M.D., commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, joined State of Reform host Vern Smith, Ph.D., for a robust discussion on the current state of Texas health care.

Watch these two leaders offer their thoughts on health care costs, price transparency, social determinants of health, the pandemic response, and more.




2. Panel: ‘Bringing an equity lens to health care’

At last Thursday’s “Bringing an equity lens to health care” panel, speakers emphasized the importance of health data in addressing equity and called for the depoliticization of health equity work. Democratic Rep. Lina Ortega said inequitable health outcomes ultimately translate to higher costs for tax payers, and thus it should be a bipartisan priority.

Carol Robinson, founder and CEO of CedarBridge Group and Midato Health, agreed with her fellow panelist: “If you can have good data that will show you places or even good transformational programs that have the optimistic potential to show cost savings, then a lot of times even the most conservative Republican legislators will understand that that will have a value,” she said. The panel also highlighted the importance of HB 2090‘s passage last year, which will establish an all-payer claims database in the state by the end of 2023. See more insights from the panel here.


3. What They’re Watching: Cindy Zolnierek, Ph.D.,Texas Nurses Association

In the first edition of our “What They’re Watching” video series from last week’s conference, hear from Texas Nurses Association CEO Cindy Zolnierek, Ph.D., about her main policy priorities and what can be done to support nurses as they continue to be among the hardest-hit professionals during the pandemic.

With 80-90% of Texas nurses having concerns about short staffing levels, Zolnierek believes augmenting the workforce by promoting policies and work environments that will bring new nurses into the workforce is paramount. TNA is working with legislators and the governor’s office to figure out the best ways to allocate available funding to bolster the struggling workforce.



4. Q&A: Rep. Erin Zwiener talks policy priorities

Democratic Rep. Erin Zwiener says Medicaid expansion is by far her highest priority, despite the partisan initiative’s continued failure to gain traction in the legislature. She recently spoke with State of Reform about what she’s focused on during the interim, which also includes increasing access to medical cannabis. “Many people who are using it for pain even in concentrates are actually guilty of a felony … My preference would be to trust medical providers to prescribe cannabis when it’s appropriate,” she said.

Another focus area for Zwiener is addressing vaccine hesitancy and educating her constituents about the importance of booster shots. She says she has been “startled” at the levels of vaccine hesitancy in her community, particularly among women of childbearing age and their children. She fears that this hesitance will lead parents to refuse to have their children receive other childhood vaccinations.


5. Trans health care restrictions: protection from child abuse or a scare tactic?

AG Paxton’s declaration last month that the performance of certain gender-affirming care on children is “child abuse,” followed by Gov. Abbott’s directive ordering Texans to report any instances of children receiving this care, has fueled party-aligned disagreements over transgender rights. These measures’ supporters—as Republican Rep. Jacey Jetton recently told State of Reform—say they protect children from permanent, life-altering procedures.

Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist for ACLU Texas, said these actions represent a continuation of anti-transgender efforts in Texas and intend to scare parents out of supporting their transgender children. “Supporting your transgender child is not child abuse. It’s the absolute opposite of that. The best thing you can do for a child or a community that is experiencing gender dysphoria is support them through age appropriate, medically necessary care,” she said.