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New Law Expands Central Health’s Authority to Provide Medical Care for People with Low Income

(Austin) – Physicians working for Central Health now have an expanded ability to practice medicine, helping the organization better provide medical care for Travis County residents with low income.

The change is the result of new legislation signed by Governor Greg Abbott May 7, 2019. Senate Bill 1142 gives Central Health the power to appoint, contract for, or employ physicians—a significant change for the 15-year old healthcare district, which does not provide direct medical care. Instead, Central Health funds care, paid for by local property taxes, by partnering with a network of clinics and hospitals.
Historically, Central Health employed physicians in executive or managerial positions, but the doctors were not permitted to directly care for patients due to state laws and regulations overseeing the practice of medicine in Texas.

“This means Central Health physicians will now be able to make medical decisions about appropriate care for patients,” Central Health President & CEO Mike Geeslin said. “Central Health doctors will also be able to provide direction to nursing staff, such as during home visits, or refer patients to another doctor or specialist. Our doctors were limited in their scope before.”

Central Health contracts with health care providers to care for low-income patients in the Medical Access Program (MAP), MAP Basic and Sliding Fee Scale programs. “This bill will help Central Health improve efficiency, reduce costs, and most importantly improve the health of our community. It makes sense to put Central Health on even footing with most of the other major hospital districts in the state who have this authority,” Senator Kirk Watson, the bill’s Senate author, said.

Senate Bill 1142 was authored by Senator Kirk Watson (Senate District 14) in the Senate and sponsored by Representative Donna Howard (House District 48) in the Texas House. The bill went into effect immediately upon signing by the Governor, and mirrors statutes in place for 17 other Texas hospital districts.

“I feel it’s in the best interest of everyone served by Central Health, which last year was almost one out of every seven Travis County residents, to make sure every asset we have at our disposal is accessible to provide the best health care possible. I’m proud of the role we played in changing that statute, and grateful to my colleagues for supporting the bill and to Governor Abbott for signing it into law,” Representative Donna Howard said.

In addition to permitting direct care for patients, the bill also allows physicians on staff to perform operational duties that would otherwise have been delegated to hired contractors. The ability to make decisions about the drug formulary or manage patient referrals and triage waitlists based on medical necessity, among other roles, all improve the overall efficiency of Central Health.
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“Up to this point, we’ve been missing out on the opportunity to really make the best use of our employees. We needed the ability to allow those professional physicians on staff to do what they were trained to do. I’m thankful to our legislators who made it possible. This will go a long way toward improving our efficiency and capability,” Central Health Board of Managers Chair Dr. Guadalupe Zamora said.