AUSTIN - With a deadly pandemic still lingering, lawmakers in the Texas House have turned their attention to improving access to doctors, healing drugs and vital therapies.
"I think healthcare is a priority for all Texans. It's something they talk about at the breakfast table and the dinner table and so we deliver for those Texans," said House Speaker Dade Phelan.
Prominent in pitching a slate of legislation, dubbed Texas Health Care Priorities, was Houston Representative Tom Oliverson, an anesthesiologist by trade whose transparency bill would force Texas hospitals to publish the price of their services, instead of revealing out-of-pocket costs to patients after care is delivered.
"We remove that barrier by requiring hospitals moving forward to post their contracted prices for all to see, so that Texans can, for the first time ever, shop around and find deals that meets their needs and their budget," said Oliverson.
In addition, House members rolled out bills creating a pharmaceutical discount program for vital drugs like insulin, expanding Medicaid coverage for low income children and mothers, funding neurological research for conditions like autism and dementia, and enabling home health workers to legally deliver vaccines to infirm and disabled Texans.
"We need to get vaccines in the arms of these vulnerable Texans," said Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat.
And yet the proposal with the biggest potential impact and plenty of bi-partisan support is a vast expansion of publicly funded telemedicine and the statewide broadband upgrade necessary to reach the seven million mostly rural Texans still suffering with unreliable service.
"Patients have found the use of this technology beneficial and physicians and other health care providers have found this technology a means to see patients in a much more timely fashion," said Rep. Four Price, an Amarillo Republican.
The so-called "elephant in the room" at the state capital remains comprehensive expansion of Medicaid, which would allow Texas to join 38 other states in accessing billions of federal dollars and providing health coverage to an additional 1.5 million Texans.
While expansion has drawn significant support, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick remain opposed.