Telemedicine bill written by two UH Law Center students passes Texas House 

CapitalMay 27, 2015 - A bill drafted largely by two students in the University of Houston Law Center’s Health Legislation & Advocacy class and designed to expand access to telemedicine services in Texas passed 141-0 in the Texas House and is awaiting action in the Senate.

The bill, HB 3476, provides for the creation of a pilot program that would expand potential participants for Medicaid reimbursement of telemedicine services to include the elderly and people with special health care needs, expanding on a list of nine statutory illnesses that include heart disease, cancer, stroke and mental illness or severe emotional imbalances. It would also allow participants to receive telemedicine and tele-health services in their residences.

The bill would not allow the pilot program to be turned into a full-fledged program without approval by the Texas Legislature.

“This is an outstanding accomplishment, as the majority of bills filed in the Texas Legislature never make it out of committee,” said UHLC research Professor Allison Winnike, who taught the class with fellow research Professor Patricia Gray.

As the June 1 deadline for the regular session nears, only 26 percent of bills filed passed out of the House and made their way to the Senate, according to Winnike.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. During a hearing of the House Committee on Public Health, of which he is a member, Coleman publicly acknowledged the work of students Kevin Dyer and Bobby Joe Dale, as well as Gray, a former House member and chair of the committee, for their efforts in drafting the bill.

Dyer and Dale also testified on behalf of the bill in the April 14 hearing. [See the video here, beginning at the 2.12:40 mark.]

“It’s really great that we were able to make an impact on policy that will hopefully help people,” Dale said of the bill’s passage by the House. “I never would have thought something like this would happen even a year ago.”

Dale, a second-year, part-time student, recently received a fellowship to work on health law issues with Houston Congressman Gene Green in Washington, DC.

Dale said his focus in the overall goal of expanding access to telemedicine was to include the elderly and people with special needs.

During his testimony, Dyer told the committee members about the class’ work with noted disability law expert Lex Frieden, who advised the students of the two-semester Health Legislation & Advocacy class.

Frieden is the director of the Independent Living Research Utilization program at the Texas Institute for Rehabilitation and Research Memorial Hermann, which was the “client” for the class.  He is also a member of the Law Center’s Health Law & Policy Institute Advisory Board.

Frieden, who suffered a spinal cord injury in an automobile accident while a college freshman in Oklahoma, was one of the leading advocates of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

In early March, another student in the class, Bradley Cook, testified before the House Public Health Committee on behalf of another bill, HB 661, which would allow Texas to join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, meant to allow streamlined licensure of physicians in all of the compact’s member states.

While Cook was not directly involved with the drafting of the bill, he had done extensive research on the compact for the class and worked on it with aides of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Zerwas, M.D., R-Simonton. Although the bill was reported favorably by the committee on March 17, it was not sent to the full House for a vote.

Another student, Simran Sobti, worked on H.B. 2250, sponsored by Coleman, which would allow a patient’s residence to serve as a telemedicine site and remove a requirement for face-to-face interaction with a physician. It has not been set for a hearing.

In a class earlier this month, Sobti told Frieden that the Texas Medical Board had recently announced new regulations that were similar to what she had proposed in her bill.

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