EDINBURG, Texas – Dr. Linda Villarreal, the president-elect of the Texas Medical Association, says she is concerned many physicians will not be able to continue their practice because of the loss of business caused by COVID-19.

In recent months, many patients stayed at home for fear of contracting the coronavirus. Others strictly observed stay-at-home orders. 

Villarreal, who has practiced medicine for over 30 years as an internist in Edinburg, Texas, participated in a recent panel discussion about the future of healthcare in Texas. It was hosted by the Texas Democratic Party as part of the group’s virtual party convention for 2020.

“How do we help the physician population keep their doors open?” Villarreal said. 

“It does not matter if you have insurance of not if you do not have access to your physician. You are still not going to get good healthcare.”

She said the TMA has done “amazing” work during the pandemic in reaching out to rural doctors to make sure they can keep their doors open.

Villarreal was asked what the top legislative issues would be for Texas doctors during the next legislative session. Despite the upheaval caused by COVID-19, Villarreal said the big asks would be much the same as in previous sessions. 

“We are at the bottom of 50 with uninsured population. We really need to improve on this, by maybe getting some federal funds down the pike to Texas. And, by making things a little bit less difficult as far as the red tape is involved in applying for some of these insurance programs. And, of course, by assisting those individuals, over a million now in Texas, who lost their insurance because they lost their job.”

Villarreal said if Texas would just allow for the expansion of Medicaid it could draw down an additional $110 billion over the next decade from the federal government. “That is is a lot of money,” she said.

The payment to physicians for treating Medicaid patients also needs to be looked at, she said.

“Get payment up to par with Medicare and commercial insurances when it applies to Medicaid. Get red tape eliminated to optimize the process of qualifying for Medicaid.”

Villarreal also spoke about the importance of child wellness programs. 

“If you do not keep your children healthy they are not going to go to school,” she said.

Villarreal said the Texas Legislature was right to focus on education last session and provide more funding to schools. However, she said lawmakers forgot about the healthcare of the child.

“I think there was perhaps an erroneous approach to completely ignoring the whole public health dilemma as far as the uninsured are concerned,” she said.

“If you do not have a healthy child you are not going to go to school. It is important these children are insured, that we get those individual populations that need Medicaid covered.”

Villarreal pointed out that the average age of the Rio Grande Valley population is 27.5 and that there are 3.5 kids per household. Young families in their 20s are going to need Medicaid to cover their kids’ healthcare, Villarreal argued. She implored the Legislature to beef up healthy children programs.

“We have got to do something about bringing down federal monies, improving access to healthcare, eliminating the pre-authorization and the red tape needed when applying for Medicaid,” Villarreal said.

“The Texas Legislature could really zero in on keeping our children healthy. It puts a dynamic, robust, shot in the arm for our uninsured. If the kids are healthy they can go to kindergarten and mom and dad can go to work.”

Villarreal said Medicaid is “very, very, important” to the state of Texas. She said she was concerned Humana has “started going back to their old bad habits” with regard the road blocks it puts up when funding medical operations. “Why can’t prolong the emergency programs and see where we go with the uninsured?” Villarreal asked.

Villarreal was also asked about the growth of telemedicine. She said telemedicine, tele-audio, curbside service, utilizing iPads are all becoming more important. “Anything that the patient can use to be able to access her doctor” is good, she said. 

Nonetheless, there are still many elderly patients that do not use or understand new technology, Villarreal pointed out. For them, actual visits to the doctor’s surgery are still important, she said.

“For telemedicine you have to have the Internet. The little old lady does not have that. She wants to give me a hug and shake my hand.”

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