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State Lawmaker expects "tough session"

Posted almost 9 years ago by Melanie Hampton

Originally printed in the The ReporterNews - The Abilene Online Newspaper. Please read and circulate. Thank you.

State lawmaker expects 'tough session'

Garner Roberts Special to the Reporter-News

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst says that the upcoming 82nd session of the Texas Legislature will be a “tough session,” and that the committee she chairs, the Public Health Committee, “will be right in the middle of the biggest issues.”

Kolkhorst, a state representative from Brenham who was first elected in 2000, was in Abilene on Monday to tour local health care and medical facilities with Rep. Susan King of Abilene. “With the massive shortfall in the budget, we will be looking for ways to save money,” Kolkhorst said during her visit to Presbyterian Medical Care Mission. “We also have the challenge of redistricting.”

She said primary issues facing the public health committee include the increasing cost of health care and how Texas deals with federal health care reform. The committee provides management and oversight of the state’s $52 billion health care program with 9,000 employees in five agencies.

“There are several things Texas needs to be doing to get ready” for federal health care reform, she said.

Kolkhorst, a TCU graduate who previously served on the House Appropriations Committee, also visited the Abilene Life Sciences Accelerator, Holland Medical High School, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Pharmacy and School of Nursing.

She toured the Medical Care Mission with Executive Director Scott Golding and program director David Kraly, who explained to Kolkhorst and King that the agency was established in 1983 to serve people in a 22-county area who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid and do not have private insurance. Golding said the agency has a patient list of 55,000 served by a staff of 21 and about 100 volunteers. Primary funding comes from patients’ payments, grants, private donations and contracts with Taylor County. “I was impressed with what I’ve seen in Abilene,” Kolkhorst said. “Abilene is a unique place. It has a frontier mentality. Abilene takes care of its own and braves the odds. Locally you’ve come up with some answers that the rest of the country could use.” The 2011 session of the Legislature, which begins Jan. 11, will be the sixth for Kolkhorst.

She also serves as chairwoman of the Texas Tourism Caucus and has been named one of the 10 best legislators by Texas Monthly magazine.

She said the public health committee has faced a busy interim between sessions studying such issues as obesity, diabetes, HIV, H1N1, food safety and inspections, border relations and other cost-drivers in health care such as imaging.

She said the committee is looking at the question, “Why does health care cost so much?” Kolkhorst said if trends continue, the state will spend more on public health than public education. She said federal health care reform is expected to add 30 million people to the health care system. “Do we have enough primary care physicians to see them?” she asked. “The answer is no. So what role do midlevel practitioners such as physicians assistants and nurse practitioners play? Is their role going to be expanded?”

Kolkhorst expects that Abilene “should do fine” in the upcoming redistricting process. “If you are in a rural area, you have to pay attention,” she said. “Abilene should do fine, but West Texas will have some problems because of growth in other areas of the state. “I’m a rural representative, but we are near urban areas, so we are growing,” she continued. “But we have to be careful not to separate communities with similar interests.”

Kolkhorst is a past recipient of the Rural Legislator of the Year award from the Association of Rural Communities in Texas and the Friend of Children award from United Way of Texas. Rep. King, a member of the Texas Legislature since 2006 and a practicing surgical nurse, is also a member of the House Public Health Committee.