Critical Condition: Task Force Tackles State's Health Insurance Problem

Texas is headed toward a health care disaster if it doesn't do something about the growing number of uninsured Texans, many of whom tap into free health care in big cities like Houston. That's the word from a task force that has studied the problem and released a new report and recommendations. Here's more from Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams.

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The report is called "Code Red: The Critical Condition of Health Care in Texas"and is the work of the Task Force on Access to Health Care in Texas, made up of a number of Texas universities and health institutions. With twenty-five percent of the population in Texas without health insurance, task force chair Dr. Neal Lane with Rice University's Baker Institute For Public Policy says things aren't going to get better anytime soon.

"We believe that the patient, in this case the health of Texas, is in critical condition and that immediate intervention is required to stabilize the patient and offset impending worsening of the patient's condition."

The report blames a number of variables for the lack of health care coverage, including the fact that many small employers often either don't offer health insurance or offer coverage that's too expensive. This is task force vice chair Dr. John Stobo.

"Only 37-percent of employers with fifty or fewer employees offer health insurance and their premiums are usually so out of reach that only a little more than a third of their employees actually purchase insurance when it's made available to them. It's worthwhile to remind ourselves that health insurance for a family of four now costs an average of approximately $10,000 in premiums alone per yer."

According to the report, there were 5.6 million non-elderly Texans living without health insurance in 2004, and almost 80-percent of those were in the active workforce. Dr. Michael McKinney leads the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and says Texas needs to be more daring in its efforts to improve coverage for the uninsured.

"Since there is no perfect solution that has yet been identified and it is uncertain whether a solution in one state can be successfully transposed or translated into another state, it is essential that Texas actively test a variety of possible solutions."

The task force includes 10 recommendations in its report, including the formation of a state-wide health care system that will take pressure off the current county system that burdens big city emergency rooms. Dr. David Warner is with the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

"The task force believes that the best solution to the health care situation in Texas would be a statewide health care system, but given the strong history of local control in Texas, recommends the development of regionalization of health care and makes more suggestions about the methodologies by such regionalization might take place."

You can find a link to the Code Red report through a link on our website, KUHF.org.

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