Effective September 1, Texas healthcare consumers will have a new public advocate to simplify and streamline the complaint process before agencies regulating healthcare professionals — including the Texas Board of Medical Examiners — and represent consumer interests before such agencies.
The new Office of Patient Protection, created by HB 2985 (Rep. Jaime Capelo, D-Corpus Christi and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound) passed with relatively little fanfare in a legislative session that produced scarce good news for Texas consumers. Consumers Union played a key role in the passage of the measure.
Housed within the Texas Health Professions Council, the office could serve as a model for other states looking to improve patient care at relatively little expense. It will be funded by a $5 increase in the initial licensing or registration fee charged by each licensing agency and a $1 increase in renewal fees.
“In a year where the legislature has given us little to celebrate, this is good news for Texas,” said Lisa McGiffert, a Consumers Union senior policy analyst. “While not everything we wanted, it’s a starting point that should improve the quality of healthcare for Texans.”
The new office will:
– assist consumers in obtaining information about the status of their complaints
– adopt a standard complaints form to be used by consumers to file complaints with a licensing agency
– provide information to the public about the compliant process at each licensing agency
– make recommendations to licensing agencies regarding how to make their websites better provide public information such as disciplinary actions
“The proper handling of complaints is critical,” McGiffert noted. “Consumer complaints are important pieces of the quality of care puzzle and often serve as precursor of problems in need of legislative remedy. Consumers serve as the eyes and ears of licensing boards through their complaints.”
The director of the office will be appointed by an executive committee named by the governor. The committee will consist of at least three members who are public members of the governing bodies of the licensing agencies.
The office will advocate before licensing agencies on behalf of consumers as a class and appeal decisions of the licensing agency. The office is not authorized by law to appeal an individual complainant’s case.