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November 8, 1999     (512) 463-0300

TEXAS JOINT INTERIM COMMITTEE ON HEALTH CARE MANDATES MEETS AT STATE CAPITOL

AUSTIN - The Texas Joint Interim Committee on Health Care Mandates held its organizational meeting and a briefing Monday, November 8, 1999, at the State Capitol. Members of the committee include Senators Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, serving as co-chair, Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, John Carona of Dallas, Frank Madla of San Antonio, Steve Ogden of Bryan; and Representatives Pete Gallego of Alpine, serving as co-chair, Kip Averitt of McGregor, Craig Eiland of Galveston, Patricia Gray of Galveston, and John Smithee of Amarillo.

The joint committee began the hearing with a review and briefing of interim charges issued by Lt. Governor Rick Perry and House Speaker Pete Laney. The group focused on health care benefits mandated by law to be provided by health benefit plans. Several health related problems raised special concern, one of which being the increase in price of prescription drugs, the total cost of which is in many cases higher than hospitalization costs. Witnesses testified that most minimum wage employees cannot afford health insurance even when it is offered by their employers. The Health System Change center reported that 20% of all uninsured persons are offered health insurance by their employer or a family member's employer but choose not to enroll because of the high cost. An increase in insurance premiums could lead to more workers declining coverage. Another problem observed by committee members and witnesses are the difficulty customers face in making an intelligent choice among the various insurance plans. The lack of uniformity in coverage and charged costs makes comparisons difficult. Other topics discussed by the committee were the exclusion, or caps, by health companies on preventive procedures like mammographies, and treatment of chemical dependency, and AIDS.

Testimony was presented by Dianne Longley from the Texas Department of Insurance, Bill Hammond from the Texas Association of Business & Chambers of Commerce, Rod Bordelon from the Office of Public Insurance Council, Attorney Cindy Leifferman, and Mike Pollard from the Texas Association of Life and Health Insurers.

The committee plans to hold several public hearings during the interim. The committee will submit its findings in the form of a report to be presented to the 77th Legislature which will convene in January of 2001.

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