Since 1993, the Designated Trauma Facility and EMS fund has helped offset uncompensated trauma care costs in designated trauma facilities. Since 2004, a portion of the proceeds from the Driver Responsibility Program have been the main source of funding. Unfortunately, since 2006, only a portion of the funds collected have been appropriated and distributed.
And, by the end of the current biennium, the fund is projected to have collected some $300 million not appropriated to support the state's safety-net hospitals like UTMB, Memorial Hermann and Ben Taub.
This is unacceptable. Having a statewide trauma system benefits everyone, and the state should support this resource with funds intended for that purpose. Simply put, we must strengthen the state's trauma system safety net. Otherwise, we run the serious risk of stretching it too thinly and reducing survival rates for critically injured patients in the region. Left unchecked, the safety net that we all depend on when minutes count will fail.
In initial budget proposals, lawmakers have resisted alloting the fund's full amount for trauma care because it helps pad the state's general revenue account.“It’s sort of a savings account for the state,” said Dinah Welsh, CEO of Texas EMS Trauma and Acute Care Foundation. Because the funds are dedicated, they can’t be appropriated for any other purpose — so if they’re not marked for trauma care, “they sit in an account sort of in the sky," Welsh said. The Legislature appropriated $150 million last biennium for trauma care from the dedicated DRP fund, she said, but an additional $380 million stayed in the DRP account.
It should be said: Despite my opposition to the DRP, I want trauma centers funded as much as the next guy. When my 12-year old niece died in a terrible church bus accident along with another boy a couple of years ago, a trauma center in Mississippi kept her alive for three weeks before she gave up the ghost, and saved the lives of many other badly injured children. When a school or church bus turns over, when somebody gets shot or is in a terrible car accident, of course I want the hospitals to have the resources they need. But that's what taxes are for.
And of course the DRP's original, stated purpose - at which it's miserably failed - was to encourage drivers to purchase liability insurance, renew their licenses, and to discourage DWI. Instead, the surcharge has caused about 2 million drivers to lose their licenses for non-payment, with more than 1.2 million remaining off the license rolls to this day. That in turn leaves them ineligible for insurance, including thousands of drunk drivers. Speaking of whom, the fees are so draconian, prosecutors have begun pleading DWI charges down to things like "reckless driving" or obstructing a roadway," resulting in a 29% decline in total DWI convictions in the first four years after the surcharge was implemented, even though DWI arrests increased over the same period.