Texas should pursue a waiver from the federal government for more flexibility to administer Medicaid, heighten the "visibility" of the state's mental health programs to "ensure adequate leadership and accountability" and consolidate its three major women's health programs, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services said Monday.
In a lengthy report, the interim committee released its recommendations for the 2015 legislative session, addressing charges from outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to expand access to women's health care, improve the state's mental health services, stop prescription drug abuse, and provide affordable care options for the state's uninsured — all under the constraints of a fiscally conservative budget.
"This report provides a blueprint for tackling some of our state's most pressing healthcare issues," said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who chairs the committee. "It's been an honor to work alongside my fellow Senators and help Texas move toward the kind of healthcare system that’s affordable for consumers, accessible for families, and accountable to taxpayers."
Among the report's other recommendations:
- Texas should not expand Medicaid to cover low-income adults, a key tenet of federal health law. Lawmakers should, however, seek to renew the "transformational" Medicaid waiver that, among other things, helps reimburse hospitals for the emergency care they provide to the uninsured. Notably, the report does not rule out pursuing a transformational waiver like the one the feds approved in Arkansas, which provided for a private health coverage expansion to low-income people using the Medicaid expansion dollars made available under the Affordable Care Act.
- Low-income Texans seeking cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program should undergo drug screening. Children, however, should continue to receive benefits "through a protective payee," even if their parents' benefits are discontinued.
- Lawmakers should transition the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which issues bonds to fund cancer research, into a "self-sufficient" program that no longer depends on taxpayer funding. Lawmakers should "begin developing a plan to transition the institute to a fully self-sufficient entity by their Sunset date of 2021, as envisioned when the agency was created," according to the report.