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Houston-area legislators lauded by hospitals

The 2009 state legislative is long over, and many of the laws passed by legislators were effective last month. But it’s not too late to thank the hard-working elected officials who made significant strides in expanding health care coverage, addressing workforce shortages and improving quality and patient safety.

The Texas Hospital Association is honoring 12 legislators with its 2009 Texas Hospital Advocacy Tribute award, and our staff has been traveling around the state to present the awards at special events in the lawmakers’ home districts. THA created the award in 1997 to honor state legislators and other public officials who are highly supportive of issues important to hospitals and health systems during legislative sessions. Three of the legislators being recognized by THA this year are from the Houston area, and their accomplishments on behalf of health care deserve special recognition.

Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) has been a longtime advocate for those affected by mental illness, as well as the uninsured and the underinsured. With his strong leadership in the Texas House over the past 19 years and his passion for helping others, Rep. Coleman is a strong ally for Texas hospitals and the patients they serve. Some of the initiatives he championed or supported this legislative session include advocating for restoration of the Medicaid Adult Medically Needy Program, expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and 12-months continuous eligibility for Medicaid recipients; passing legislation, although ultimately vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, that would have helped attract new physicians to underserved areas of the state by allowing rural hospitals to directly employ physicians; and preserving the landmark Texas Advance Directives Act, which he authored in 1999. Coleman is now a four-time winner of the Texas Hospital Advocacy Tribute award. His previous awards were in 1999, 2001 and 2007.

Rep. John Zerwas, M.D. (R-Richmond) emerged as a true leader on health care, and he had numerous opportunities this session to demonstrate his keen understanding of the clinical and policy sides of each issue. Some of his accomplishments include chairing the Article II Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, in which he oversaw the crafting of the state’s health and human services budget for the next two years; and authoring legislation on a number of health care initiatives, including organ donation, licensure of freestanding emergency centers, health information technology, surgical technologist certification and health plan coverage for clinical trials. As both a physician and a hospital governing board member, Rep. Zerwas brought a unique perspective to the Legislature, effectively shaping health care policy that will benefit Texans for years to come.

Because he understands the complexity of provider reimbursement mechanisms, Rep. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) sponsored stand-alone legislation, as well as amendments to the sunset bill for the Texas Department of Insurance, to regulate silent preferred provider organizations that illegally access hospital discounts and to require health plan administrators and other third parties to comply with prompt pay laws. He also worked to secure $150 million for the restoration of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston following the devastation of Hurricane Ike. Rep. Eiland’s expertise in insurance and health care, coupled with the leadership positions he held this session, make him an outstanding choice for the Texas Hospital Association Tribute award. He also received the same honor from THA in 2001.

Other legislators being honored by THA include Sen. Kip Averitt (R-Waco), Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-Mission) and Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). Other Texas House members receiving the award include Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin), Rep. Susan King (R-Abilene), Rep. Donna Howard (DAustin), Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie).

If you haven’t already done so, please take time to thank the outstanding Houston-area legislators who worked to improve health care for all Texans