A new Texas law signed on Friday will increase a state fund subsidizing unreimbursed trauma care by $31 million and repeal a controversial program that previously benefited hospitals.
The legislation repealed the Drivers' Responsibility Program, under which people were hit with hefty surcharges in addition to fines for traffic violations. Drivers saw their licenses suspended or even faced jail time for outstanding fees.
The program funneled millions into an account earmarked for hospitals and emergency medical services. The 2018-19 appropriation set aside $116 million for the fund, although a Texas health department report on hospital uncompensated care recorded deep variances year-to-year.
As criminal justice reform advocates lobbied to repeal the program, hospitals and ambulance services looked for ways to keep the trauma fund replenished in any alternative model over the past six years. Ultimately, State Rep. John Zerwas authored the legislation that has replaced the old system.
Under the new law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas will raise or add various traffic violation fines across the board starting Sept. 1, and the revenue will go to the state's trauma facility fund. The statewide traffic fine will go from $30 to $50, for example.
With the new and increased penalties in place, the fund is estimated to see a $31 million increase every year to $147 million.
Combined with federal matching dollars, the total fund will be about $176 million. The Texas Hospital Association estimated that its hospitals offer more than $320 million in uncompensated trauma-care costs.
Trauma facilities will get 94% of this budget. Ambulance and emergency medical services providers asked for an increase of their share, according to Zerwas' legislative director who worked on the bill. They will receive 3% of the total, compared with the 2% allotted under the old law.
The aide also said that along with the hospital association, Houston-based Memorial Hermann was one of the chief stakeholders working on the bill. Memorial Hermann is the state's largest tax-exempt health system.