Parker: Small Changes, Big Results

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State Rep. Tan Parker

By the end of the month, your Texas Legislature will have seen over 7,000 bills and joint resolutions filed during the 86th Legislative Session. While lawmakers continue to work through viable solutions that are imperative to Texans, such as public school finance and meaningful property tax relief, there are many other bills that are quietly making their way through the Capitol that most people do not know about, but are frequently impacted by the issues they address in their daily lives.

For example, have you ever answered a call that appears to be a legitimate name and number only to find out the person on the other end is intending to defraud you by obtaining personal information or harass you in some way?  Just recently, area residents received calls from someone professing to be a captain with the Denton County Sheriff’s Department in an attempt to trick them into paying money over the phone and providing sensitive financial information.

As consumers have been increasingly frustrated by the unsolicited calls, technology has become more sophisticated for these companies to try new antics to get people to answer. Though our United States Congress has enacted protections against “call spoofing”, the methodologies have far outpaced Congress’ ability to amend the law.

In Texas, House members recently passed HB 101 that makes false caller ID displays a state crime. Under this pending legislation, if a person makes a call that misrepresents the caller’s identity or phone number with the intent to defraud, harass or cause harm, they would be subject to a Class A misdemeanor with jail time.

In 2017, I passed a bill to protect vulnerable adults by enabling financial institutions to take action when suspected fraud or theft was taking place. I learned just how easily all people are taken advantage of and the enormous cost incurred each year from scams.  The U.S. Federal Trade Commission reports fraud in the last year alone was $1.48 billion, an increase of 38% from 2017.

Another consumer protection introduced this session is balance billing for surprise medical bills. While our state is extraordinarily blessed to have an excellent medical community and treatment options available, the reality is that Texas has one of the highest rates of balance billing in the nation. This session, SB 1264 and HB 3933 help close several loopholes in current law and removes the patient from mediation between healthcare providers and insurance companies. It also stops out-of-network health providers from balance billing.

Such cases exist when you go to an in-network hospital for emergency care but the treating doctor is actually out-of-network, for example. Though the hospital and doctor each bill your insurance company for services, your specific health plan may only reimburse for a portion of the cost. In-network hospitals can charge for the relevant co-pay, deductible and coinsurance amounts, but out-of-network providers can charge for the balance your insurance company did not pay, which can quickly cause serious financial strains.

If you have an outstanding balance of more than $500 as a result of balance billing, the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) can assist with mediation. Last year, TDI received requests to help with over 4,400 medical bills from consumers, and the agency has saved Texans over $30 million.

A third bill that addresses consumer protections from deceptive roofing companies is also moving this session. Spring in Texas often brings incredible storm systems with damaging hail. HB 2101 creates an online registry to verify that a contractor is actually who they proclaim to be. While I believe Texas continues to prosper from limited regulations, this bill provides for a balanced process to help struggling consumers. Furthermore, verification ultimately protects the hard working, legitimate businesses that suffer from bad actors. In North Texas, we certainly see our share of hailstorms but it was in my work helping during the Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts that revealed the extent of this issue and the need for reform.

There is much happening at your Texas Capitol to keep our great state prosperous and protect our cherished way of life. Please stay engaged during the final month of the 86th Legislative Session by calling my office at 512.463.0688, emailing [email protected] or accessing the Texas House of Representatives website. It’s the voice of people like you who make a difference, and I am honored to be of service.

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