87th LegislatureHealthcareState HouseTelehealth Expansion, Hospital Price Transparency Among Texas House’s Health Care Priorities

According to Speaker Phelan, the slate of bills is the first wave of this session's health care-related priority legislation.
April 7, 2021
Flanked by 10 House members, Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) unveiled the first wave of priority legislation dealing with health care in Texas.

The bipartisan group presented 12 pieces of legislation at a press conference, each a part of their health care priority package.

“Healthy Families, Healthy Texas is a groundbreaking effort to improve the health of millions of Texans, make healthcare more affordable, and put coverage within reach,” said Phelan.

“I applaud the members for working across the aisle to improve healthcare for every Texan.”

With seven bills authored by Republicans and five by Democrats, the list of legislation includes:

The Texan Tumbler

  • House Bill (HB) 4 – Expands availability of telehealth services for patients.
  • HB 5 – Creates a quasi-government body to facilitate internet access improvement across the entire state.
  • HB 15 – Establishes the Brain Institute of Texas to research brain disease and other related disorders.
  • HB 18 – Creates a “buyers club” in which uninsured patients can access prescription drug rebates currently available to the insured.
  • HB 133 – Expands Medicaid eligibility for recent mothers up to one year after their child’s birth.
  • HB 290 – Provides one extra year of Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage until the first anniversary of their statutory ineligibility, or their 19th birthday, whichever comes first.
  • HB 797 – Permits at-home care and hospice workers to administer coronavirus vaccine in the patient’s home.
  • HB 2487 – Codifies in state law a requirement that hospitals and other healthcare providers provide patients with their actual prices, and not mere estimates.
  • HB 3752 – Creates the “Texas Mutual Health Coverage Plan” available for small businesses with between two and 50 employees to provide coverage for their workers.
  • HB 3923 – Expands the classification of “insurer” to associations providing the same service, creating more options for patients.
  • HB 3924 – Enables nonprofit agricultural organizations to provide health care coverage like they were a licensed insurer.
  • HB 4139 – Creates the Office of Health Equity to “develop and implement health initiatives to create health equity by decreasing[e] or eliminating[e] health and health access disparities” for minority groups.

Phelan said that HB 4 and HB 5 go hand in hand because the ability to use the internet precedes the use of telehealth services.

The broadband expansion’s price tag is indeterminable but solely the use of fiber would likely cost billions of dollars per Senate district.

Another notable reform is Rep. Tom Oliverson’s (R-Cypress) hospital price transparency mandate. In the latter half of his presidency, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order requiring health care providers, namely hospitals, to post their actual prices for consumers to comparison shop.

This was challenged in court by, among others, the American Hospital Association on the grounds that the requirement is burdensome and unnecessary. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Trump Administration in its decision at the tail end of 2020. One of the then-judges on the opinion is current U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Since then, however, some hospitals have resisted posting their prices and many of those have simply opted to pay the fine instead.

Asked what the mechanism in his proposed law is for enforcement, Oliverson told The Texan, “That’s the million-dollar question, and that really has been the fly in the ointment. It’s the number one problem that must be addressed and we’re working on ways to ensure that.”

The current iteration of his bill instructs the administrative body to issue a penalty to an organization in violation of the law.

Oliverson said there is a Senate companion bill to his authored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) — which passed that body last week — and the pair is working toward that aim and looking at a variety of options.

“I assure you that compliance is key here.”

Phelan indicated that this package is the first, but not the last, in health care priority legislation for this session.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.