The Texas Department of State Health Services is using close to $45 million to create the Office of Health Equity Policy and Performance. Purportedly, the office will work with state and local public health entities to address disparities in health outcomes in various demographics.

This Sounds Familiar

If this sounds familiar, it is because Democrat State Rep. Garnet Coleman (Houston) authored a bill during the 87th Legislative Session that would have created the Office of Health Equity within the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, which is an entity of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The bill was included in the healthcare legislative priorities of Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan as a part of his “Healthy Families, Healthy Texas” legislative package announced in early April.

The bill passed the Texas House of Representatives on May 5 by a vote of 77-51 and included 16 Republicans.

Those Republicans were State Reps. Steve Allison (San Antonio), Brad Buckley (Salado), Gary Gates (Rosenberg), Dan Huberty (Humble), Todd Hunter (Corpus Christi), Kyle Kacal (College Station), Ken King (Canadian), Stephanie Klick (Ft. Worth), John Kuempel (Seguin), Stan Lambert (Abilene), Morgan Meyer (Dallas), Geanie Morrison (Victoria), Chris Paddie (Marshall), Four Price (Amarillo), John Raney (Bryan), and Jim Murphy (Houston).

Murphy is also the House Republican Caucus chairman.

When the bill arrived in the Texas Senate, it was never even referred to a committee and granted a hearing, sealing its fate—or so you would have thought.

An Agency Acts of Its Own Accord

Texas used to have an agency that was called the Center for Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities. It was created in 2010 and ended in 2017 during the 85th Legislative Session when it was defunded. The agency ultimately shut its doors in August of 2018.

The close to $45 million being used to create this office was sent from the federal government in one-time grant funding through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Wednesday, Coleman sent a letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner, Dr. John Hellerstedt, saying:

“I would like to thank you for taking the initiative to use the funds to create the Office of Health Equity Policy and Performance (OHEPP). Like the office I envisioned in my bill, the OHEPP will have a cross-system approach and work with local health agencies to look at vulnerable populations (including along the lines of race and ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomic status, geography, etc) to ensure that Texas has a more proactive and unified strategy in working towards health equity.”

In the same letter, Coleman went on to say that he is hoping to work with health officials and state leadership “to establish a more permanent funding source for this critical office into the future.”

When the news broke that the Texas Department of State Health Services was creating this office of its own accord, former State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, a current candidate for the Republican Party of Texas chairman, took to Twitter to ask, “Why is the Texas executive branch using $45 million of taxpayer money to create an agency that will implement critical race theory in health policy after the Legislature defunded the agency in 2017 and the [S]enate blocked its implementation this year?

When Coleman’s bill was being deliberated in the House of Representatives, State Rep. Jeff Cason (R–Bedford) spoke out against the bill on the House floor and said, “Today, we gather here voting on legislation that assumes our healthcare system is institutionally racist and that certain people are oppressed when receiving health care due to their gender or color of their skin.” He continued, “No one in America is turned away from a hospital. Healthcare has been open to all who seek it.”

So What’s Next?

The obvious question is: What is the purpose of the Legislature if executive agencies will just act on their own?

The Republican Party of Texas platform includes language that says, “We favor strengthening our common American identity, which includes the contribution and assimilation of diverse racial and ethnic groups. We reject Critical Race Theory as a post-Marxist ideology that seeks to undermine the system of law and order itself and to reduce individuals to their group identity alone. We support legislation to remove this ideology from government programs, including education involving race, discrimination, and racial awareness.”

Yet, 16 Republicans, including the House Republican Caucus chairman, voted in favor of a bill that would do the opposite, and the Republican House speaker prioritized it.

The federal money is a one-time grant by which the author of the similar bill that died in the most recent legislative session had indicated he will look to extend using state taxpayer dollars during future legislative sessions.

Jeramy Kitchen

Jeramy Kitchen serves as the Capitol Correspondent for Texas Scorecard as well as host of 'This Week in Texas', a show previewing the week ahead in Texas politics. After managing campaigns for conservative legislators across the state, serving as Chief of Staff for multiple conservative state legislators, and serving as Legislative Director for the largest public policy think tank in Texas, Jeramy moved outside of the Austin bubble to focus on bringing transparency to the legislative process.