5 Things Texas: Conference keynotes, Panel coverage


Eli Kirshbaum


It was great to see so many of you at the 2022 North Texas State of Reform Health Policy Conference last month! In this newsletter, we report on the keynotes and include Reporter Boram Kim’s coverage of several of the panel discussions from the event.

Our Digital Media Specialist, Alex Nelson, also made a “What You Missed” video to recap the event, which you can view here!

Thank you for your support!

Eli Kirshbaum
State of Reform


1. Keynote videos: Dr. Fred Cerise and Stephanie Stephens

We had a fantastic pair of keynote speakers at our recent conference, with opening remarks from Dr. Fred Cerise, President and CEO of Parkland Health and Hospital System. During his remarks, Cerise focused on the rising cost of health care, how hospitals are involved in this, and strategies to lower these costs heading into the future.

At the end of the day, Texas Medicaid Director Stephanie Stephens provided a robust update on the state’s Medicaid program. She spoke about the provisions in Texas’s new 1115 waiver, HHSC’s commitment to alternative payment models, and more.


2. How can Texas support the health care workforce?

According to Jennifer Tertel of Medical City Healthcare, one of the speakers on last month’s panel on the health workforce, the need for nurses during the pandemic produced staggeringly high wages for some positions, creating unrealistic nurse wage expectations that are hindering crucial hiring/retention efforts. “We’re just barely at the tipping point of being able to see some of that downward trend [in wage expectations], but I don’t think it’s ever going to go back to what we saw in 2019.”

One of her copanelists, Elizabeth Merwin, PhD, who leads UTA’s Center for Rural Health and Nursing, said recruiters should target students with tuition relief earlier on in their academic career in order to address financial barriers sooner. She said cost is a barrier to graduation for many, and this early intervention would both incentivize more students to accept positions after they graduate and give providers more control over wage and service negotiations.

3. Texas Democrats talk renewed Medicaid expansion effort, health funding, and more

During the conference’s legislative panel, state Democratic legislators spoke of plans to reintroduce bills on Medicaid expansion in next year’s session. Sen. Nathan Johnson argued that doing so would provide a huge financial benefit for the state and improve the health of its uninsured population. Rep. Julie Johnson promised to fight for broader health care funding to address SDOH, higher compensation rates for health care workers, and better health information exchange interoperability.

Sen. Johnson said he plans to target the state’s budget surplus and invest it into health care initiatives. Both lawmakers remained hopeful that more of their Republican counterparts who represent rural and underserved parts of Texas would support health care reforms in what they say will be a reformative session for health care. The panelists urged those in attendance to take the lead in advocacy and innovation efforts by pressing lawmakers to take action.


4. Experts discuss future outlook of Texas Medicaid

During our “Texas Medicaid: Stakeholder perspectives” panel, Former Texas Medicaid Director Stephanie Muth said without collaboration and innovation to address the coming losses of health coverage associated with the end of continuous coverage provisions, up to 2 million Texans could be disenrolled from Medicaid. She also highlighted the discomfort that some federal regulators have with the absence of MFAR provisions in Texas’s new 1115 waiver and said stakeholders should anticipate future intervention from federal regulators in this area.

“There’s a lack of comfort from some federal policymakers with how many Medicaid dollars flow outside of your traditional Medicaid program,” Muth said. “So I do think we will see continued scrutiny and oversight and some changes there.” Another panelist, Metrocare Services CEO Dr. John Burruss, discussed how the state’s Medicaid program can be used to incentivize physical and behavioral health care integration.

5. What are the best strategies to address Texas’s SUD crisis?

In a panel entitled “Tackling SUD in Texas,” Christina Laguna, PhD, Director of Substance Use Programs Planning and Policy at HHSC, said her agency has distributed over 72,000 doses of naloxone and works to expand access to medically assisted treatment for opioid use disorder through the Texas Targeted Opioid Response program. While HHSC supports multiple inpatient and outpatient SUD treatment programs across the state, Laguna noted she’d like to see uptake of state resources increase.

Aaron Ferguson, Regional Outreach Manager for Community Medical Services, said the passage of a reformed “Good Samaritan” law in the state could result in a 15% decrease in overdose deaths. He called for the creation of safe consumption sites, which are proven to save lives by distributing harm reduction tools and strategies to those at risk. Sandrine Pirard, MD, VP and Medical Director at Beacon Health Options, said more specialty care treatment options that promote recovery through targeted care management need to be made available to providers.