Taking the Lead: Priority Legislative Issues 2009
Texas Health Insurance Risk Pool (HB 2064): More Affordable Health Insurance
The National MS Society took the lead on legislation to help reduce the number of uninsured Texans by making the Texas Health Insurance Risk Pool more affordable for lower and middle income families. We created and promoted HB 2064, sponsored by Rep. John Smithee and Sen. Kip Averitt, to create a sliding scale premium discount for THIRP. This change allows better access to individuals and families who otherwise could be at risk for losing their health coverage when the risk pool is priced beyond their reach.
This year, MS activists were key voices in our legislative efforts, and they made their voices heard loud and clear. MS Activist Tracy Brinton’s personal story touched many at Senate and House legislative hearings. Diagnosed with MS in 1999, Tracy has struggled to keep adequate and affordable health care insurance. She says, “In order to maintain coverage, we have had to deplete our savings. The annual expenses from premiums, diagnostic testing, and physician visits are $13,000 per year and are taking the place of us having retirement savings, and money for college for our children. The future of our entire family is at risk as a result of our inability to maintain our health insurance costs.” Thanks to MS activists like Tracy, this legislative session the National MS Society helped to ensure that more Texans have better access to the care and coverage they need.
Family Caregiver Respite Bill (HB 802) and Outreach Bill (HB 3367): Support and Outreach to Family Caregivers
During the 2009 legislative session, Gary Campbell and other MS activists came forward to share their personal stories in support of family caregiver legislation. Gary is one of 2.7 million unpaid, informal family caregivers in Texas who care for a loved one. Gary’s wife Linda has MS, and he left his job to care for her when she began to experience major health complications. Eventually the medical bills led to the loss of their home and vehicles.
Family Caregiver Respite legislation, sponsored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini and Sen. Bob Deuell, created a program allowing middle income families to receive vouchers to pay for help for caring for their loved one at home. Caregiving takes an emotional and physical toll on families and caregivers, who must make tough choices about providing at-home care, managing finances, and remaining in the workforce.
Respite is one of the most frequent services requested by informal caregivers to help them continue to provide at-home care. It offers caregivers a much-needed, short-term break from their responsibilities. Research shows respite reduces the strain of caregiving, allows caregivers to remain in the workforce, and delays or prevents long-term institutionalization. Texas informal caregivers provide an estimated 2.9 billion hours of care per year, a market value of $24 billion.
Following the family caregiver legislation that was passed during the 2009 session, legislators included $1 million in the Texas state budget for the next fiscal year to begin funding the respite program in three or four communities. It’s a relatively small investment by the State with an important payoff: it will go a long way to help Texas caregivers remain in the workforce, and may also delay or prevent institutionalization for their loved one
In addition, the Family Caregiver Outreach Bill, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Rose and Sen. Kirk Watson, will require the Department of Aging and Disability Services to provide increased outreach to assist in connecting family caregivers with available resources, and to collect better data on the needs of these Texans. The National MS Society will continue to build on both of these successes in the 2011-2012 legislative session.