One-hundred twenty-five students from UTMB’s School of Medicine representing the Class of 18, 19, 20 and 21 traveled to Austin on Tuesday March 7 on chartered buses provided by the UTMB Alumni Association to share their concerns regarding the future of health care and the practice of medicine with members of the Texas Legislature. Led by SOM TMA-AMA Student Association President Faith Mason and last year’s president and vice-president Vanessa Collins and Matthew LaCoure, the students arrived in Austin at 10 AM on Tuesday morning and set out for a day at the capitol that would include introductions and recognitions in the State House, the State Senate and visits in member offices from their local hometown districts. As usual, the students were most interested in sustaining their commitment to graduate education programs in the state as well as preserving support for the state’s medical and health professions education programs.
Students were able to meet with State Representatives Greg Bonnen of Friendswood and Wayne Faircloth of Galveston. Dr. Bonnen grew up in Brazoria County, attended local schools there prior to his graduation from A&M University in College Station. He entered UTMB as a freshman medical student and in his second year of medical school married his wife Kim who is a graduate of UTMB’s School of Health Professions with a degree in occupational therapy. Greg graduated from UTMB, started a residency in orthopedic surgery and switched to neurosurgery at UTMB a year later. He is a board certified neurosurgeon, served on the UTMB faculty for a number of years before entering his own practice in the Bay Area. State Representative Faircloth started his post college career as a pharmaceutical representative and later became the owner of his own insurance brokerage.
Over in the Senate, the students were introduced by Senator Dawn Buckingham. Buckingham is from West Lake (near Austin). She received her Doctor of Medicine degree from UTMB and specializes in oculi-plastic surgery. Prior to her election to the Texas Senate in 2017, Dr. Buckingham was an active member of the Texas Medical Association advocating for the medical education, physician and patient rights, quality, and high standards of professionalism. Joining Dr. Buckingham was a contemporary from her UTMB School of Medicine days, Dr. Charles Schwertner. Dr. Schwertner, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgetown, Texas, did his undergraduate education at Texas A&M and enrolled in UTMB for medical school. Dr. Schwertner graduated from UTMB and also did his orthopedic surgery residency there. UTMB students presented Dr. Buckingham with a print of the Ashbel Smith (Old Red) Building.
Medical students spent their afternoon visiting with members of the legislature and their staff in their capitol offices before moving over to the Thompson Auditorium at the TMA Building. Students were treated to a question and answer period with Dr. Greg Bonnen as well as an alumni report from Dr. Debra Fuller of Dallas. Also addressing the students were former TMA president Ray Callas from Beaumont, Darren Whitehurst (TMA lobbyist), and Doctors Bill Bailey and Ben Raimer. UTMB Alumni provided a feast off Austin BBQ with all the trimmings.
Sixty days into the 140 day session, where are we? There has been a lot of Brownian movement throughout the halls of the capitol and a lot of early morning and late evening committee and subcommittee meetings. As I’ve said, the Senate came out the shoot at full throttle, and then the energy sort of dissipated as clandestined small groups began to meet looking at a litany of ways to further decrease the budget and find cost savings. The House took a bit more time to get organized but did so in a very methodical and predictable way, so the House budget has been discussed in a very transparent and inclusive manner with open meetings, minimal rhetoric and civility. Subcommittees have returned to the main House Appropriations Committee chaired by Representative Zerwas and for the most part putting the pieces of the proposed budget into place have been orderly and inclusive.
Both chambers should have the bulk of their work done by weeks end with a few adjustments that may carry them over into next week, but we expect to see budgets for comparison in the next few days. They will most certainly be different budgets, with different priorities emphasized by way of funding sources and funding choices. For one thing, the House feels strongly that use of funds from the Rainy Day Fund is essential, and that a few other shifts in revenue sources is indicated.
The Senate Finance Committee has suggested that it will attempt to limit the adverse impact on some of the health related institutions who are heavily dependent upon their special item funding and offer a graduated reduction plan over a period of time.
UTMB remains focused on (1) obtaining minimal reductions to its formula and special item funding and (2) shifting hospital general revenue funding into a mission specific formula like that provided to MD Anderson and UTHSC-Tyler. This last request is revenue neutral and does not result in reductions or increases in the hospital budget funding. Of utmost importance to UTMB remains funding for the operation of its Biocontainment treatment facility which is under construction, retention of funds for the provision of indigent health care and funding for our nationally recognized primary care programs.