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September 28, 2000     (512) 463-0300

Senate Special Committee on Border Affairs Examines Border Health Issues

AUSTIN - The Senate Special Committee on Border Affairs held its 14th public hearing of this interim, Thursday, September 28, 2000, at the State Capitol.

Lt. Governor Rick Perry has asked the committee to research five charges during this interim, including the region's transportation needs, water systems, health issues, prospects for economic development and inspection stations. The group has been meeting along the Border and in other areas of the state, listening to the public and officials alike about these issues. Their input will help the committee draw its recommendations for legislation to be proposed during the upcoming 77thLegislative Session.

Today's meeting focused on health conditions along the Border, including childhood diseases and the regions chronic health problems, such as diabetes and tuberculosis. Interim charge three orders the committee to evaluate the utilization of immunization and prevention programs and how Texas and the Mexico's Border states cooperate on health issues. The committee is to develop health care strategies to improve Border health conditions and recommendations for their implementation.

After the approval of minutes from the last meeting and opening remarks by Chairman Eddie Lucio, Jr., the committee heard invited testimony from Mr. John Guerra, Vice President of AT&T; Mr. Neal Simmons; Mr. Don Currie; Mr. David Lopez; Dr. Lorenzo Pelly; Dr. Maria Alen, Dr. Victor Trevino, Mario Anzaldua, Rosa Marquez, and Dr. William "Reyn" Archer III.

Dr. Lorenzo Pelly, a family doctor from Brownsville, pleaded that the members of the Legislature pay more attention to health care issues. He says Texas is among the worst states in the country in a number of health-related areas, such as counseling for smoking cessation, delivery of antibiotics and children's health insurance. He testified that diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions, becoming the sixth leading cause of death in Texas, with a very high incidence in the Border region. Insufficient funds, people crossing to Mexico to seek affordable medical care and medicines, and a high incidence of people with fatal conditions arriving at emergency rooms due to lack of preventive care were among the problems he mentioned. To have such a high increase in the number of patients with no increase in funds is inhuman, he said. Dr. Pelly recommended developing better communication between the state government, doctors and patients to solve or at least ameliorate the critical health problems of the state in general and the Border region in particular.

Dr. Maria Alen, Chairwoman of the Texas Diabetes Counsel of the Texas Department of Health, talked about new hopes created by recent genetic research that has singled out the diabetes gene. Today however, the Rio Grande Valley remains the Texas region with the highest incidence of diabetes. Funds, facilities, education and trained staff are needed, as well as public transportation for people to reach health care centers. There is an increase of diabetes Type II showing up in children and adolescents. Dr. Alen and other witnesses pointed out the importance of educating people about good nutrition to avoid this and other major illnesses, recommending more fiber, less sugar and less fat.

Dr. Trevino, of the Laredo Health Department, continued pointing to a long list of Texas health delivery problems, such as women losing Medicaid in their third trimester of pregnancy, the elderly population buying substitutes for their prescribed medicines across the Border and a high incidence of allergies.

Another topic discussed was the need for a better communication between Mexico and Texas health authorities to standardize medical diagnosis, care and follow ups of sicknesses such as Dengue fever. Committee members and several witnesses called on the federal government to do more regarding environmental issues in the Border region, saying that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was to blame for many of the region's health and environmental problems.

There was no public testimony in today's meeting.

The Senate Special Committee on Border Affairs includes Senators Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville, serving as chair, David Sibley of Waco, serving as vice-chair, and Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo. The committee stands recessed subject to the call of the chair.

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