Legislative Update: 85th Texas Legislative Session

January 13, 2017

By Jill McLain, Executive Vice President, Governmental Relations

After conclusion of the 85th legislative session, I’m happy to report that for the seventh successive session, 2003 medical liability reforms have emerged unscathed. In addition, not one bill opposed by TAPA and TMLT was passed into law.

The session was especially contentious, as reflected by a 38% drop in the number of bills passed by the Legislature in 2017 (824 bills) as opposed to bills passed in 2015 (1,323 bills).

During this session, the Texas Medical Board (TMB) was up for review by the Texas Sunset Commission, which every 12 years reviews the viability of state agencies to assess their effectiveness and necessity. The TMB is an essential agency that must be renewed, hopefully with some recommended process revisions.

TMLT worked closely with our staff, defense team, physicians, lobby team, and legislative partners to create amendments to the sunset bill that make the  complaint process more fair. However, the sunset bill — including our amendments — was not passed, requiring Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session which will begin July 18th. The governor has mandated that the sunset bills be passed before other pending bills may be considered.

The following are just a few highlights of bills passed and defeated.

Bills passed and signed into law include:

  • HB 2891 – Updated medical authorization for release of protected health information. This bill, the need for which originated at TMLT, creates a state approved, HIPAA-compliant form mandated for use in medical liability cases. Because it passed by more than a 2/3 majority, it is effective immediately.
  • SB 1107 – Telemedicine. Guidelines for telemedicine are established in this bill, which requires that the same standard of care be practiced via telehealth as in a traditional, in-person clinical setting. Some parts of the bill take effect immediately and others on January 1, 2018.
  • HB 1978 – Physician assistants (PAs) receive certain liability protections and relief from supervision requirements while offering medical services during a disaster, or as a volunteer in various types of charitable and other similar events. This takes effect September 1, 2017.
  • SB 1148 – Relating to maintenance of certification. Prevents certain hospitals, health facilities, and managed care plans from differentiating between physicians based solely on whether they have maintained their board certification. Takes effect January 1, 2018.
  • SB 507 – Surprise billing. Expands mediation of out of network bills. Takes effect Sept. 1, 2017.

Bills defeated include:

  • HB 719 – Caps on non-economic damages. This bill proposed indexing the non-economic damage cap, which would have undermined 2003 tort reforms. It was fought and defeated.
  • SB 934 – Mandatory liability limits for nursing homes. This bill would have required nursing homes to carry a minimum of $300,000 in liability coverage per occurrence and $1 million aggregate.
  • HB 434/SB 25 – This bill would have eliminated the wrongful birth cause of action, which is already limited in scope in Texas.
  • SB 182 – Pre-suit discovery. This bill would have invited “fishing” expeditions from plaintiff's attorneys and resulted in an increase in litigation frequency.
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