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July 19, 2004     (512) 463-0300

Senate Finance Committee Examines Health Care and Higher Education Costs

In the first of a set of meetings today, the Senate Finance Committee examined how changing demographics and population trends will impact the state's health care costs over the next couple of decades.

Rick Allgeyer, Director of Research for the Health and Human Services Commission, said that the trends go nowhere but up. He said that by 2040, there will be 35 million Texans, as compared to about 20 million today. Almost all of the population increase is coming among the Hispanic population and other current minority groups, with the Anglo population generally holding steady. Chairman Steve Ogden said he was concerned that "if the economic disparity between Anglos and Hispanics stays constant" that the state would see a large increase in costs for human services.

Lisa Carruth, from Director of Forecasting at Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) followed. She testified that predicting future caseloads was difficult, given that the predictions are themselves based upon predictions. Committee member Senator Jane Nelson said that this was one of the original problems with the Children's Health Insurance Program, and that the Legislature didn't have the information it needed on how many children would need coverage in the future.

Albert Hawkins, HHSC Executive Commissioner, reported on how that agency is working to contain costs. He said that clients are now picking up part of the costs, from $15 to $25 dollars per month per household. He said the agency is now asking federal permission to use this money to help fund coverage. The committee also discussed what kind of health care coverage should be provided, whether it is through preferred providers or health maintenance organizations.

The committee has also been charged with examining how local funds are used at various types of agencies and institutions of higher education. Dr. Larry Faulkner, of the University of Texas, told the committee that university funding in Texas is so complicated because the universities have many sources, have many missions and therefore have many organizations that they report to, not just the Texas Legislature.

The committee reconvened during the afternoon in joint session with the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education. The two committees were continuing their earlier discussion of funding of research institutions. They began afternoon testimony with Dr. Lamar Urbanovsky, Chancellor of the Texas State University System, as he described the challenges TSU faces as it begins to emphasize research more than in the past. The chancellor said that if Texas wished to have more than one flagship institution then it should commit the resources to creating them.

The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is Senator Steve Ogden. Members include Senator Judith Zaffirini, serving as vice-chair, Kip Averitt, Gonzalo Barrientos, Kim Brimer, Bob Deuell, Robert Duncan, Kyle Janek, Jane Nelson, Florence Shapiro Eliot Shapleigh, Todd Staples, Royce West, John Whitmire and Tommy Williams. The Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education is chaired by Senator Royce West and includes senators Kip Averitt, Kyle Janek, Todd Staples and Leticia Van de Putte. Both committees recessed subject to call of the chair.

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