Legislative committees take up TAFP priorities

By Jonathan Nelson

Two key legislative committees heard testimony this week about items in the state budget that directly affect access to care. The Senate Finance Committee took up Article II of the budget, which contains funding for all the state’s health care programs. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III heard testimony from the state’s health-related institutions, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and parties interested in medical education.

TAFP member Jackson Griggs, MD, CEO of Waco Family Medicine, testified before both committees. First he spoke to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III, calling for the restoration of funding to the Family Practice Residency Program, a budget strategy administered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that funds family medicine residencies. Although the number of family medicine residents continues to increase year over year, the amount of THECB funding for those residents has withered, dropping from $14,300 per resident in 2011 to less than $4,800 in 2022. Restoring that funding is one of TAFP’s top priorities in the 88th Texas Legislature. (Read TAFP’s issue brief on family medicine residency funding.)

Griggs told the committee that he has spent the majority of his career training family physicians at the Waco Family Medicine Residency Program, and that family medicine is “the linchpin for providing access to primary care, preventive care, mental health, and maternity care in rural and underserved communities. … By investing in the Family Practice Residency Program, we can put more doctors in rural areas, close gaps in prenatal and maternity care, and expand access to mental health services.”

He asked members to restore funding for the FPRP to the 2011 level. “That will take $20 million dollars, but for the return on investment — comprehensive primary care, womb-to-tomb care, in rural areas throughout our state — the return on that investment is sizeable.” (Watch Dr. Griggs’ testimony.)

TMA President Gary Floyd, MD, also testified before the subcommittee, calling for increased funding for the Family Practice Residency Program. “We would ask you to consider an additional $20 million to allow this program to once again make a big difference in access to rural health care.”

He also asked members to fund the state’s new Rural Training Track Program, which was enacted in 2019 but has never been funded, and he asked them to increase funding for the Physician Education Loan Repayment Program. “That helps our rural communities compete with our metropolitan areas in recruiting physicians. Unfortunately, it was not able to receive applications last year because it was fully subscribed. Its funding is flat in the base budget, and it definitely needs y’all’s attention.” (Watch Dr. Floyd’s testimony.)

Dr. Griggs then addressed the Senate Finance Committee on behalf of TAFP and TMA, telling members that too many Texans lack health insurance.

“I have endless stories from my practice of hard-working adults who have suffered unimaginable outcomes due to lack of health insurance. Too many moms still die unnecessarily following delivery, and for every maternal death, 100 mothers suffer severe postpartum complications. Maternal and newborn risks are multiplied by proliferating maternal health deserts, and rising rates of drug abuse and suicide and domestic violence reflect a widespread emotional anguish that’s characteristic of our state right now.”

He called on the Legislature to establish 12 months of postpartum coverage for Medicaid patients and to increase funding for women’s preventive health services. He also called for increased Medicaid physician payments to increase access to pediatric and obstetric care, and for modernization of the Medicaid eligibility system. (Watch Dr. Griggs’ testimony.)

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