Make Health Insurance More Affordable And Accessible
The Texas Hospital Association (THA) is urging lawmakers in Dallas, Houston and throughout the rest of the state to take the right steps to make health insurance more affordable and accessible to individuals in Texas. The state ranks first in the country in the percentage of uninsured residents (24.6%).
‘Cover the Uninsured Week,’ which is observed nationally to highlight the importance of access to affordable health care benefits, has garnered particular attention in Texas where Gov. Rick Perry has localized the awareness effort by proclaiming April 23-29, 2007 as Cover the Uninsured Week in the Lone Star State.
“Everyone pays the price when individuals, families and small businesses cannot afford health insurance,” the Governor stated. “The increasing costs of uncompensated care place a strain on Texas hospitals, other health care providers and on the quality of care every patient receives. Texas recognizes the urgency to take meaningful steps to make health insurance more affordable and accessible.”
Nearly one quarter of Texas residents — approximately 5.5 million men, women and children — is uninsured. In addition, the uninsured rate in every major Texas city is higher than the national average, and Texas’ share of uninsured children, more than 25 percent, also is higher than the national average. In 2005, eight in 10 non-elderly uninsured Texans came from working families — nearly 70 percent from families with one or more full-time workers.
“Texas hospitals are working with our elected officials in the battle to provide health care coverage to more Texans through the private sector as well as state-funded programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” according to THA President/CEO Dan Stultz, M.D., FACP, FACHE. Stultz said, “We know that access to affordable health insurance affects all Texans — because we all pay the price when Texans don’t get the care they need.”
In addition to working to reverse cuts in Medicaid and CHIP funding, and restoring provider reimbursement rates, the THA supports a number of private-sector measures to increase the number of Texans with health insurance coverage. These measures include:
H.B. 882 by Rep. Elliott Naishtat/Rep. John Davis (S.B. 922 by Sen. Kirk Watson) — These measures authorize counties to establish or participate in regional health care programs, which would provide health care services or benefits to the employees of small employers located in the participating counties.
H.B. 1182 by Rep. John Davis — Requires that state agencies and school districts consider whether a vendor provides health care benefits or equivalent health savings benefits to its employees when awarding a contract for goods or services.
S.B. 1023 by Sen. Royce West — Limits the use of money in the Texas Enterprise Fund to recipients that provide health benefit plans.
H.B. 3321 by Rep. Vicki Truitt — Requires students to be enrolled in a health benefit plan and to submit proof of health insurance before enrollment at a public institution of higher education.
H.B. 3361 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (S.B. 1681 by Sen. Kip Averitt) — Requires that health care benefit plans allow unmarried children of any age to be covered under a parent’s or grandparent’s health insurance policy or plan if the cost of the premium is paid.
When uninsured Texans are sick, they currently often turn to hospital emergency rooms because they have no primary care physician. Stultz noted that nearly 20 percent of people who lack health insurance report turning to the ER for what is often routine care, compared to only three percent of those with insurance coverage, according to the National Coalition on Health Care.
“Using hospital emergency rooms for non-critical care takes precious time and scarce resources that doctors, nurses and other health care professionals could put to work for those patients who truly need life-saving care or intervention for serious medical conditions.” Adding that Texas hospitals spent more than $ 10.1 billion in 2005 to care for patients who have no health insurance, Stultz said, “The costs of uncompensated care strains our physicians’ and hospitals’ ability to provide quality care to all patients — regardless of their insurance status. It also places undue burdens on local taxpayers, workers and health care consumers.”
Health care experts say that increasing the number of people with health insurance will further enhance the quality of care and help reduce the losses that result from doctors and hospitals treating patients with no health insurance. Uncompensated care limits the financial resources available to invest in new technology, electronic communication, education and other enhancements that would improve patient care and outcomes for all patients.