As a die-hard fan of the Texas Longhorns, I have no shame in telling you that after last year’s 5-7 record, I was glad the college football season was over. Even though I’m a self-admitted policy wonk and political news junkie, I was equally relieved—even somewhat jubilant—when the 82nd Texas Legislature finally closed up shop and went home. If you followed the frustrating struggle to balance the state budget without additional revenue, and witnessed the resulting cuts to higher education, public education, and health and human services, you might have been just as ready for it to end as I was. At least when they’re not in session, they can’t do any more damage, right?
Now is not the time to bury our heads in the sand. In fact, the legislative interim is perhaps our best opportunity to formulate and articulate our most effective arguments for renewed investment in Texas’ primary care infrastructure. We can document the ill effects of the drastic reduction in state support for graduate medical education, especially in family medicine residency training, and we can illustrate the broken promise of access to primary care physicians for underserved communities made manifest by the 76-percent cut to the state’s Physician Education Loan Repayment Program.
And now is the time to begin preparations for a major initiative in the next legislative session. In the late ’80s, rural medicine in Texas was in terrible need of state investment. Health care organizations and advocates rallied around a broad set of goals encompassed in what was called the Omnibus Rural Healthcare Rescue Act, which the Legislature passed in 1989. The law created the Center for Rural Health Initiatives and the Office of Rural Health Care, and it contained tort reforms, benefits for rural hospitals, several reforms to strengthen the state’s trauma care infrastructure, and new recruitment and training programs for primary care physicians. Family medicine won funding for third-year clerkships, among other valuable reforms.
As our state demographics change, and following the decision of the 82nd Legislature to withdraw almost 80 percent of its investment in programs intended to increase the state’s primary care workforce, we believe primary care in Texas is in desperate need of something like that landmark omnibus package of reforms and initiatives. Let’s call it the Primary Care Rescue Act. Obviously we would want to include the restoration of state support for GME, especially the funds that go directly to family medicine residency programs through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Also we would include full restoration of funds for the Statewide Primary Care Preceptorship Program, and the Physician Education Loan Repayment Program. But what else should we include?
We wish to engage you—the membership of TAFP—in this endeavor from the very beginning. What state reforms would make your practice easier, more efficient, and provide better care for your patients? What kind of administrative simplification requests should we make in state programs? What about managed care reforms? Would a standardized pre-authorization process help? Standardized contracts? Real-time claims adjudication? What could the state do to make primary care more attractive to medical students?
The sooner we can begin to craft a set of reforms to use during the election cycle, the more likely our success becomes. Remember, politics drives the process that sets policy. That’s why we want to hear your ideas for the Primary Care Rescue Act. Use this space, here on the blog, to comment with your ideas, and we’ll pay close attention to the discussion. If you’d rather send us your ideas individually, feel free to e-mail me, Jonathan Nelson, at email@example.com. Or you can e-mail Tom Banning at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Kate Alfano at email@example.com. However you choose to share your ideas, we are eager to hear them. The legislative interim can be a time filled with promise and hope, and it’s the perfect time to lay the groundwork for big initiatives in the next session. Let’s take advantage of that opportunity.
– Jonathan N