Texas Democratic legislators highlight key health care issues and priorities

After bravely battling a myriad of technical difficulties, Sen. Roland Gutierrez and Rep. Julie Johnson came together at the 2021 North Texas State of Reform Health Policy Conference to answer attendee questions and discuss critical health care issues in Texas, as well as highlight some of their legislative priorities from both the most recent legislative session and for the future. 

 

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Gutierrez and Johnson stated they would both continue to fight for Medicaid expansion, despite the bill’s failure to pass. Johnson said:

“I believe that is a critical piece to opening up and expanding health care and provided funding for critical providers who serve that space.”

Johnson expressed her frustration that despite the bill’s bipartisan support, the state leadership never gave it a hearing after the bill failed to pass. 

Gutierrez emphasized that one of his main priorities this session was preventing insurance companies from pushing back on doctors, physicians, and hospitals on philosophy of health and what kind of medical care should be given. He said this represented just one of the many opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to work together, stating:

“I think that there’s a lot of space for senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle to really look at how insurance companies have tried to control the function of health care. We have to work together on this because under no circumstances should health care be about the bottom line of the insurance company. Health care has to be about … taking care of people. I think that there’s plenty of appetite, even from my Republican colleagues, to tell big insurance … the people in the hospital don’t have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ behind their name.”

Johnson outlined her strategies for influencing the health policy agenda in a Republican-dominated state, which include effectively communicating ideas, collaborating with groups such as the Texas Medical Association and other leading authorities in health care, and having physicians and advocates testify in committee hearings.

Both Johnson and Gutierrez asserted that the best way to fight for progressive policies was for people to get involved on the advocacy side and the electoral side. Johnson also stated that reframing how they discuss Medicaid expansion would be critical, as it was a “buzz word” in many Republican circles. 

“What I find is whenever I’ve discussed Medicaid expansion with folks, and my Republican friends that were able to sit down and listen to it … and so I’ve always referred to it as ‘increased access to care’ and use other phrases so that overlay of political bias isn’t present, and you’re really focusing more on the policy.”

Gutierrez mentioned that his other legislative priorities were legalizing medicinal marijuana, supporting independent pharmacists, and improving medical reimbursements for doctors so they can afford to stay in the Medicaid system. He also commented on the state of the foster care system, and said Texas needs to pay social workers more and lighten their caseloads.

Johnson also said the telehealth bill passed in the most recent legislative session needed to be improved and made more robust, especially regarding broadband infrastructure.