Impacting public policy in Texas

Posted: 10th Jul 2013

Participants from the University of North Texas Health Science Center’s (UNTHSC) 2012 North Texas Health Forum cheered the results of their collaboration and a huge victory for the state when Governor Rick Perry signed the 83rd Texas Legislature’s House Bill 3105 into effect this June. With the passage of this bill, insurance companies can now negotiate directly with consumers as to whether they will cover injuries resulting from intoxication.

Co-sponsored by the UNTHSC School of Public Health and Tarrant County Challenge, Inc., last year’s conference on alcohol abuse sparked conversation among legislators and groups from around the state regarding a provision, placed into law in 1947, precluding insurance companies from liability for accident or loss when involving intoxication or substance abuse. Research has suggested that this provision had the unintended consequence of encouraging medical providers not to screen patients for intoxication or alcohol dependence, because of the risk that they might not be reimbursed for services. As a result, many patients who may have benefitted from screenings and referrals were not identified, even though most insurance plans now cover addiction treatment services.

Studies have shown that 30-minute motivational interventions offered in a trauma unit can significantly reduce alcohol use, re-injury and hospital readmissions, and that after three years, patients who received brief interventions were nearly 50 percent less likely to have an injury requiring readmission. UNTHSC Behavioral and Community Health professor Scott Walters, PhD, is currently working nationally with colleagues on a three-year study soon to be released, focusing on the efficacy of three brief intervention strategies, including a method with personalized telephone follow-up.

Significantly, cost analysis of this issue has shown a net benefit of $3.81 for every one health care dollar spent on brief alcohol interventions, and it is estimated that if interventions were routinely offered to adult patients nationwide, the net savings to the U.S. health care system could approach $1.8 billion annually.

Thanks to grassroots community efforts following the UNTHSC North Texas Health Forum, HB 3105 was introduced by State Representative Geanie Morrison, endorsed by ASAP Texas (The Association of Substance Abuse Programs) and supported in the previous legislative session by the Texas Association of Health Plans, representing HMOs, health insurers and other related healthcare entities across the state. Other groups have also backed the need for alcohol-related ER interventions, assessment and referrals, including the American Medical Association, National Conference of Insurance Legislators, American Public Health Association and the Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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