The Legislature tackled more than 6,200 substantive bills during its 140-day session that ended Monday and, as usual, a relative handful of those got a lot of attention and sparked fights.
More didn’t, even some that will have a huge impact on the state.
One of the big-impact bills was Senate Bill 18, by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. Given final approval in both the House and Senate with no opposing votes, it’s aimed at boosting the number of doctors in Texas, especially in those areas and medical specialties where shortages exist.
Nelson’s long tenure and respect in the Senate, plus her powerful position as chairman of the Finance Committee, no doubt influenced SB18’s outcome. But even more, she recognized a need and pushed a solution.
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SB18 sets up a new mechanism and spurred an allocation of $53 million in the 2016-17 state budget to expand graduate medical education — commonly known as hospital residencies and to medical professionals as GME slots.
This year, there are expected to be about 140 more new medical school graduates in Texas than there are residency slots available.
At the same time, new medical schools are opening in Austin and the Rio Grande Valley.
That means some graduates must go to other states for the residency experience they need.
It’s well known what happens when that occurs: Doctors who serve their residency elsewhere tend to set up their practice elsewhere.
That means money and effort spent on educating them in Texas medical schools is a lost investment.
Ironically, some residency slots in Texas sit vacant. Even though they are approved by the state, hospitals lack the money to support all of them.
The Legislative Budget Board estimates that SB18 will pay for 125 additional residents each year, at a rate of $75,000 each per year until they finish their programs.
The bill requires the Department of State Health Resources to research the supply of physicians across the state and to determine the specialties in which there is a critical shortage.
Nelson deserves praise for SB18.