House bill could cut funding, reduce services for hospitals

William James Gerlich

Hospitals, nursing homes and physicians could be forced to cut services if lawmakers pass House Bill 1 this Friday, said leaders of the Texas Hospital Association on Tuesday.

The association’s leaders urged members of the Texas House of Representatives to protect funding for local hospitals, doctors and nurses. The bill would also cut Medicaid reimbursement and hospital’s access to federal supplement funds, said Dr. Dan Stultz, president and CEO of the association during a press conference at the Capitol.

“Hospitals save lives every day, and if services are reduced or eliminated, Texans will suffer,” Stultz said. “The proposed budget before the House cuts into the core. Hospital services — and jobs — will be lost, and not just temporarily. These cuts won’t heal.” The 2012-13 proposed state budget cuts reduce funding to designated trauma centers from $70 million per year to $57 million per year.

According to a report by progressive research institute Center for Public Policy Priorities, the budget bill also underfunds Medicaid by $6 billion.

Association spokeswoman Amanda Engler said that the House has a lot of new lawmakers with the goal of less government and lower taxes, even if that means cutting funds from hospitals.

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, authored the budget bill with the House Committee of Appropriations. Pitts’ chief of staff Aaron Gregg said the committee had to cut spending somehow, and this bill does the best it can to balance things across the state.

Bill Webster, CEO of the Medical Center Health System in Odessa, said rural and children’s hospitals, which are heavily dependent on governmental programs such as Medicaid, may be forced to drop key services or close altogether.

“Low-income children and pregnant women don’t stop needing health care just because the state didn’t budget enough,” Webster said. “If they can’t find a doctor or a clinic, they come to the ER, where by state and federal law, our hospital must assess and stabilize them.”

Attorney Clyde Farrell of Farrell & Pak PLLC said he thinks these budget cuts are an acceleration of an already existing trend, which will cause nursing homes funded by Medicaid to greatly suffer.

“We are going to start seeing nursing homes become very segmented between upper and lower class facilities if the current trend of cuts continues,” Farrell said.

The House is expected to begin consideration of its proposed version of the state budget later this week, but until then, hospitals statewide will lobby the House to mitigate the proposed cuts in the budget.