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House Votes For State's First Needle-Exchange Program, But Only In Bexar County

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, May 22, 2007

by R. A. Dyer, Star-Telegram Staff Writer

The Texas House voted to allow the state to create the first ever needle-exchange program for intravenous drug users -- but only as a pilot project around San Antonio.

The provision was added to a broad Medicaid bill, Senate Bill 10, which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple.

Rep. Ruth McClendon, D-San Antonio, at first tried to add an amendment to the bill that would create a statewide needle-exchange program. But she limited her amendment to Bexar County, where San Antonio is, when it appeared that she did not have support in the House for the broader program.

McClendon said Texas is the only state without a needle-exchange program. "The purpose of the clean-needle program is to keep them from spreading the disease," she said, referring to hepatitis C and HIV, which are commonly spread by intravenous drug use.

Delisi did not dispute the public health benefits but said that constituent concerns about appearing to support illegal drug use outweighed those benefits.

"Our constituents [are concerned] about [whether] promoting the free exchange of needles for the illegal use of intravenous drugs is something the state should be doing," she said.

Under the program, IV drug users could anonymously exchange their used syringes for clean ones. The details of the program remain to be worked out. The amendment was adopted in the House 71-60.

Senate Bill 10 would reward adults on Medicaid for quitting smoking, losing weight and taking other steps toward healthier lifestyles. It also would allow the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to develop healthcare packages tailored to recipients' needs and to pay private insurers to provide coverage.

Many of the elements in the legislation would require federal waivers. But the federal government is encouraging states to develop cost-saving ways to deliver Medicaid coverage as Congress tries to lower the federal deficit.

Under the legislation:

Managed-care programs would be encouraged to enroll Medicaid recipients with an emphasis on preventive health services. The state would probably bear the cost, but backers of the legislation say it would be cheaper than providing such services directly.

State health officials would develop a pilot program in one part of the state to encourage Medicaid recipients to join smoking-cessation, weight-loss and other programs to reduce the risk of long-term health issues.

Efforts to stop fraud and abuse would expand, including verifying that applicants and recipients of Medicaid are U.S. citizens.

Hospital emergency rooms could charge Medicaid recipients a co-payment if they seek services that could be provided in a clinic or a doctor's office.

Medicaid is a federal program administered by the states that pays for indigent healthcare. The state and federal governments share the costs.

A decade ago, 14 percent of the state budget was spent on Medicaid. Today, it's 25 percent, and in 2017, it's projected to be 40 percent.

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Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 2007   ~   Accessed: 4707 times
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