Lobbyist Update

by Eric Woomer

As we approach the end of year and look forward to next 2016, I am pleased to report that the Texas Dermatological Society has had a busy but positive 2015.  Here are some recent activities I have undertaken as your governmental affairs consultant.

Texas Medical Board

On behalf of TDS, I attended the December 4, 2015 meeting of the Texas Medical Board, which was taking up for consideration a proposal permitting acupuncturists to provide “facial rejuvenation” procedures without a physician referral.  This is a cosmetic procedure to address such things as sagging skin due to weight loss. Acupuncturists are currently allowed by statute to treat four types of issues without a doctor's referral - weight loss, substance abuse, smoking cessation, and chronic pain.  They were approaching TMB about adding "facial rejuvenation" as a 5th.  

TMB members didn't know much about the topic, such as how it worked or what harm could come to a patient.  They wanted to review data to support that it was safe and effective, and TMB staff was instructed to consult with the acupuncturists to obtain such reports.  The issue was tabled pending the results of that review.

For 2016, the Medical Board is scheduled to meet March 3-4, June 9-10, August 25-26, October 13-14, and December 1-2.

Balance Billing

I attended the Texas Medical Association’s Advocacy Retreat in Austin on December 5.  The Board of Trustees of the TMA has formed a task force to investigate the issue of balance billing.

Candidates for our nation’s highest office have offered plans to prohibit physicians from charging at out-of-network rates when a patient visits a facility covered by their insurance plan.  National consumer organizations are actively pursuing a prohibition on out-of-network physician billing for services provided at hospitals.  And in Texas, despite the fact that the Legislature passed significant balance billing reform legislation, several influential lawmakers continue to suggest that additional reforms will be a top priority for the 2017 session.

Over the last two decades, organized medicine has defeated attempts to prohibit balance billing.  However, given the continued efforts across the political spectrum to address this issue, it may grow more and more difficult to preserve the status quo.

In and effort to bring a unified voice to the Texas Legislature, the Task Force on Balance Billing and TMA’s Council on Legislation are interested in learning what changes in physician behavior should be considered with respect to the balance billing issue and how such changes might be expressed in legislation. They are also interested in understanding public policy outcomes Texas physicians would find unacceptable.

Outreach

A big part of my ongoing activities on behalf of the Texas Dermatological Society includes outreach to legislators and their staff during the interim period between legislative sessions.  Each election cycle, perhaps 3-6 Senators and 20-30 Representatives leave office – due to retirement or losses at the ballot box.  Dozens more staff people move on to other jobs – inside or outside the legislative process.  This churning of legislators and personnel makes maintaining my visibility and relationships as your governmental affairs consultants a top priority.

In the 4th Quarter of 2015, I hosted meals for 24 different legislative office, both Republican and Democrat, in Austin and in their districts, as well as the House of Representatives Staff Christmas party on December 15th.  My team has hosted more than a dozen candidates for office, to discuss their political interests and strategy for election day success.  I have sponsored dozens of fundraisers for sitting legislators, and to date have contributed more than $10,000 in personal resources to key incumbent lawmakers.  Between personal funds, my partnership PAC, and my client base, my budget for political contributions for the 2016 election season is expected to exceed $150,000.

2016 Elections

The filing period for legislative offices for the 2016 ballot closed December 14, 2015.  Important election dates to keep in mind include February 1, 2016 – the last day to register to vote;  February 16-26, 2016 – Early voting;  and March 1, 2016 – Texas primary election day.

To date, thirteen House members and two senators have retired from their respective chambers.  Collectively, this group represents more than 200 years of legislative service, and includes seven sitting chairmen.   There are an additional 24 seats with incumbent legislators facing well-known, well-financed challengers, meaning that the 2016 election cycle should be an active campaign season.

Key races that affect the House of Medicine include:  Senate District 24 (Incumbent Troy Fraser – retiring) – Dawn Buckingham, MD – an opthamologist – leads a crowded field that initially included Rep. Susan King (R – Abilene), who has been a longstanding friend of medicine and whose husband, Dr. Austin King, is a former TMA president.  She has since bowed out of the race, citing health concerns.  Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) serves on the Public Health & Appropriations Committees, and holds a swing district, meaning she will likely have strong challengers in both her primary and general elections.  Rep. J.D. Sheffield, DO (R – Gatesville) is continually fending off GOP challengers from the conservative wing of his party, while House District 130 (Incumbent Allen Fletcher – retiring) is being sought by Dr. Tom Oliverson, an anesthesiologist.

Thank you for allowing me the honor of representing you at the state capitol.  Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or concerns.  Additionally, my website (www.ericwoomer.com) has been relaunched as a client resource for keeping up with legislative and political activities.  I hope you find it useful.