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Attorneys general fire off letter to Sebelius

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, January 8, 2014

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius received a letter dated Jan. 2 from 10 state attorneys general, expressing concern over recent action related to the enforcement of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Ed Sterling

Ed Sterling

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott signed the letter along with 10 other state attorneys general who united in claiming the federal Health and Human Services agency has proposed changes “that both compound illegal executive action and fail to protect the privacy of consumers using the health insurance exchanges.”

In the fall, President Obama said it would be acceptable for insurance companies to let current heath policies remain in effect for a year, even if those policies do not meet all of the Affordable Care Act’s coverage requirements. But rather than have Health and Human Services accommodate an “administrative fix” to the act as proposed by President Obama, the attorneys general suggested, changes instead should come through congressional action.

As to the privacy issue, the attorneys general wrote of “the widespread public outcry over the security of consumers’ private information throughout the enrollment process” and said Health and Human Services “needs to implement common-sense safeguards, such as criminal background checks, for all persons with access to sensitive personal information.”

Meanwhile, the Texas Department of Insurance scheduled a Jan. 6 hearing on proposed state health care regulations of health care navigators, people who assist other individuals through the national health care exchange sign-up process.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, a few days before the hearing, said, “My problem is with things like fees for navigators, who themselves are prohibited from charging for their services and the arbitrary and unjustified addition of 40 hours to the existing federal training requirements. The department needs to demonstrate that these provisions are not designed simply to put navigators out of business.”

MEETING IN AZLE DEALS WITH EARTHQUAKES

Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, on Jan. 3 hosted a town hall meeting in Azle, a city straddling Tarrant and Parker counties, northwest of Fort Worth.

Railroad Commissioner David Porter listened to residents’ concerns over recent seismic activity in the area, which many believe to be related to gas and oil industry operations that have increased dramatically over the last few years.

According to the Railroad Commission, Porter has been in communication with the state geologist in regards to a potential study by the Bureau of Economic Geology and the commission staff “has inspected every disposal well in the impacted area for any violations, none of which have been detected.”

But residents expressed suspicion that drilling activities and disposal wells, where waste fluids have been deposited, somehow might be related to the slippage of geological substrates.

Porter said, “The Railroad Commission will continue to diligently enforce its current rules and regulations regarding disposal and injection wells.”

Also, in a Jan. 3 statement, the Texas Oil and Gas Association said, “Safe and responsible operations in the oil and gas industry is priority one. Discussion of seismic activity and any possible correlation to oil and gas operations is a worthwhile exercise and the issue warrants robust investigation to expand upon the research we have on hand today.”

GOVERNOR APPOINTS STEEN TO THEC BOARD

Gov. Rick Perry on Jan. 3 announced the appointment of John T. Steen Jr. of San Antonio to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for a term to begin Jan. 8 and expire Aug. 31, 2019. The board sets policies and coordinates efforts to improve higher education in Texas.

Steen served as Texas Secretary of State from November 2012 to December 2013. He also served as a commissioner and past chair of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, as a board member of the Texas Public Safety Commission, and as a member of the Texas Commission on Economy and Efficiency in State Government.

TWO OF TEXAS’ TOP PHILANTHROPISTS DIE

Jack Sawtelle Blanton, 86, of Houston, a leader in the energy industry, philanthropy and higher education, died in Houston on Dec. 28. The Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin was named in his honor in 1997.

“The university has lost a great friend,” said Bill Powers, president of The University of Texas at Austin.

Also on Dec. 28, businessman, investor, political activist and philanthropist Harold Clark Simmons, 82, of Dallas, died.

Gov. Perry remembered Simmons as a “true Texas giant” whose “legacy of hard work and giving, particularly to his beloved University of Texas, will live on for generations.”

Ed Sterling is member services director for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.

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