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Herman: How do dentists, doctors defend serving alcohol to patients?


I went to the Capitol on Thursday in search of an answer to one of the bigger questions on my mind this legislative session.

Oh sure, I’m curious about how our best and brightest handle the major issues of our time: writing a state budget, deciding who goes to which bathroom, how to stop the president from tweeting and what to do about school finance. (That last one can’t be too hard to solve. I’ve seen them solve it three or four times in the past few decades.)

To get an answer to my question I first had to sit through discussions of several other topics at Thursday’s 8 a.m. session of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee that dealt with business and commerce and – Surprise! – foreign policy.

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Before getting to the vexing question on my mind, which came about than two hours into the meeting, I got to enjoy a prolonged discussion about rural phone companies and an even more prolonged discussion about Texas-Israel relations.

On the phone bill, Senate Bill 586, we heard about how the universal service fund affects the state’s 45 small and rural phone companies.

The testimony began with this from rural phone company guy Joey Anderson of Muenster (they’ve heard all the cheese jokes, so don’t go there): “I was glad to survive another trip down I-35.”

And then everybody talked about telephone stuff for a while, including rural telephone co-ops, which I used to think are where you crank something on the side of the phone and ask Mabel to connect you with the feed store. No action was taken on the bill, and I was encouraged that we were progressing to an answer to my pressing question, one I knew would be conclusively dealt with at the meeting.

But I wasn’t counting on the foreign policy debate ignited by state Sen. Brandon Creighton’s Senate Bill 29. Creighton, R-Conroe, wants the Texas government to boycott companies that boycott Israel. That debate — short version: Israel good, Israel bad — went for about an hour and no action was taken on the bill.

As that discussion wound down, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, sponsor of the bill that would answer my question, twisted and stretched in her chair as she knew she was on deck. Back in February, I told you about Kolkhorst’s Senate Bill 404, the one that would bar all health care professionals from doing something you can’t believe any health care professionals actually do: serve alcoholic beverages in the waiting room to patients and parents of patients.

This might be funny if it wasn’t. Kolkhorst told the committee it happens, sometimes with what docs like to call bad outcomes. (Docs talk funny. They never say, “pain.” They say, “discomfort.”)

Kolkhorst, a dentist’s daughter, said the measure is part of her continuing effort regarding “struggles we have in protecting children in dental offices, and the general public as well.”

“A variety of medical providers, especially dentists, have begun offering free alcoholic beverages at their practices,” she said, adding, “These beverages are also offered to parents of patients both before and after procedures, which we know often involve sedation or other pharmaceuticals.”

She cited a League City dentist who provided alcoholic beverages to a parent who was required to sign loan agreement forms for the treatment for the parent’s son. The child suffered severe injuries as a result of the treatment.

The legislative analysis of the bill reported “several incidents where alcoholic beverages have been offered by medical providers who later go on to inflict severe and permanent damage, often during the course of procedures later found to be unnecessary.”

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So here’s the question I took to the Capitol on Thursday: Would any health care professional have the temerity to show up to extol the benefits of offering alcoholic beverages in the waiting room for patients and parents of young patients about to make medical and financial decisions?

Kolkhorst’s bill was left pending. She told the committee she’s reworking it in response to concerns she’s heard. One tweak will make it clear that massage therapists and funeral home operators won’t be barred from offering alcoholic beverages to their clients. She said she also had heard from medical folks who complained her bill was an attempt at overregulation.

“In the course of the conversation, they admitted that they are serving alcohol in their dental offices,” Kolkhorst said.

These were the folks I was interested in hearing from at the hearing. None showed up. So there’s the answer to my question.

“It saddens me in a way that I have to carry a bill that prohibits serving alcohol in medical offices,” Kolkhorst told the committee.



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