Five Health-Related Laws That Went Into Effect This Week 

Sep 2, 2019

Among the hundreds of new laws that took effect in Texas on Sunday, several are related to health. Here are a handful that took the legislative spotlight. 

Surprise medical bills

Senate Bill 1264 shields some Texans from surprise medical billing. That usually happens when someone with health insurance goes to a hospital that’s out of network during an emergency or to an in-network hospital where there are doctors who are not in-network.

When insurance companies and medical providers don’t agree on a fair price, patients can get stuck with hefty medical bills. SB 1264 prohibits those bills from being sent to consumers in the first place. Under the law, providers and insurers can enter into arbitration with one another to negotiate a payment.

The law applies only to people with Texas-regulated plans and does not apply to people who have federally regulated plans. Federally regulated plans account for roughly 40% of the state's health insurance market.

While the bill did take effect Sunday, these protections don't apply to any transactions until Jan. 1. Patients may still see surprise bills and can use the state's existing mediation program.

New smoking age 

Texas becomes the 16th state in the U.S. to raise the legal age to buy tobacco and nicotine products to 21.

Senate Bill 21, written by Sen. Joan Huffman, prohibits the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and tobacco products to people under 21, with the exception of members of the military. Those who violate the new law are subject to a Class C misdemeanor and a fine of up to $500.

The law is a part of legislative efforts to reduce youth tobacco use. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 11.3% of high school students in Texas report smoking cigarettes, while 18.9 reported using e-cigs.

Breastfeeding

Texas House Bill 541 expands on existing protections for the right of mothers to breastfeed in public. Previously, state law did not explicitly protect the “expression” of breast milk. State legislative staff said that created confusion among employers and businesses as to whether women were also allowed to use a breast pump. 

Starting Sept. 1, new mothers will be allowed to use a breast pump in any location where they are already allowed to breastfeed.

The “Born Alive Act” 

Texas House Bill 16 was passed to create protections for babies born alive during an abortion. 

Opponents of the bill say the law is unnecessary. For one thing, the likelihood of a child born alive after an abortion is extremely low. Secondly, current law already provides these babies with the same rights as any other child.

The law creates “a physician-patient relationship” between an abortion provider and a “child born alive.” According to the bill, a “physician must exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious physician would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”

Abortion rights activists said the bill was written without any scientific fact behind it and would further stigmatize a legal medical procedure.

Transportation for expecting and postpartum moms

House Bill 25 was passed to make sure pregnant women and new mothers have transportation to doctor’s appointments. On Sept. 1, the state launched a pilot program that allows new moms on Medicaid to take their children with them to appointments.

The state already has a transportation program for mothers on Medicaid who need a ride to prenatal and postpartum doctors visits, but they couldn’t use the service if they had to take a baby or young child along with them.

Experts say that kept many women from making it to their appointments, because they couldn’t afford or find child care for their other children. 

At any given point, there are about 136,000 pregnant women in the state’s Medicaid program. It will be up to state health officials to decide where those pilot programs get set up.

Tiana Woodard contributed to this report.

Clarification: This post previously suggested surprise billing protections went into effect this week. The law went into effect, but protections don't apply until the beginning of 2020.