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December 16, 1999     (512) 463-0300

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Uninsured Holds Austin Hearing

AUSTIN - The Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Uninsured held its second meeting today, December 16, 1999, in the Texas State Capitol. The group was created by Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 6 during the 76th Regular Legislative Session earlier this year. The task force is charged with examining the problems concerning Texans who lack health insurance, reviewing demographic trends relating to the uninsured population, and examining the state's programs, laws, and systems which address the lack of affordable health coverage. The task force will develop a market-based improvement plan to ensure that Texans have access to affordable health care coverage.

The panel consists of nine members: three senators appointed by Lt. Governor Rick Perry, three House members appointed by Speaker Pete Laney, and three public members appointed by Governor Bush. Senator Chris Harris of Arlington was elected to serve as chair of the task force. The other senators are David Bernsen of Beaumont, and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso. State representatives include Bob Glaze of Gilmer, Garnet Coleman of Houston, and Craig Eiland of Galveston. Public members include Nancy Wilson Dickey, M.D., of College Station, John C. Goodman and Boone Powell, Jr., both of Dallas.

The task force began its hearing with invited testimony relating to state demographics. Steve Murdock, a state demographer, provided testimony to the committee concerning characteristics of uninsured populations and projections for future state demographics. He told the task force that Texas' population increase during the 90's is the highest for the last thirty years. Since 1990, 190,000 people, on average, enter Texas legally, each year. Accurate figures for illegal population increases could not be provided. Texas' population increase has been concentrated in three areas within Texas. Houston, the Border Region (Brownsville, Laredo, etc.), and the Central Corridor Region (Dallas to San Antonio) have received the most new inhabitants since 1990. Murdock believes that a few of the potential problems this rapid growth rate could produce are an increase in the median age group and an estimated 30% increase in birth rates.

The next two witnesses testified on health care spending. They were Cindy Alexander and Phyllis Coombes, both from the State Comptroller's Office. Alexander and Coombes briefly discussed Medicare spending. They stated that Medicare spending for persons more than 65 years of age is less in Texas, compared to the national level, due to the state's younger population.

Don Gilbert of the Health and Human Services Commission discussed Medicaid, CHIP, and waivers in Texas. Gilbert stated that the State pays 30% of Medicaid expenses, with the federal government picking up the other 70%. Last year there were 2.6 million Texans enrolled in Medicaid; 46% were Mexican-American and 20% were African-American. Of those 2.6 million enrolled, 60% were female and 59% were children; 64% were senior citizens, blind, or disabled. 23% of the total population in Texas is insured under Medicaid. 485,000 Texans are enrolled in some sort of managed care. Gilbert also stated that the amount of uninsured Texans has risen from 23.7% in 1998 to 24.5% in 1999. This increase is expected to continue due to the rapid population growth in Texas.

Rod Bordelon from the Office of the Public Insurance Counsel, and Jose Montemayor and Dianne Longley, both from the Texas Department of Insurance, spoke on health insurance regulation. Their testimony focused on the challenges and issues relating to providing small employer markets appropriate health coverage. One particular challenge for small businesses providing their employees coverage is the fact that insurance rate charges differ for each business, depending on business size. Montemayor stated that he would like to see "the bar of quality raised" in providing insurance to smaller businesses in Texas. Longley briefly discussed the various pros and cons of insurance plans available to employers throughout the nation and in Texas.

Clark Jobe from the Texas Insurance Purchasing Alliance and Tyrette Hamilton from the Texas Healthy Kids Corporation (THKC) gave testimony relating to past and current state-directed health insurance endeavors. Jobe spoke on insurance rates and markets. Hamilton gave testimony related to the THKC and various children's health insurance issues. THKC increased enrollment by 25% this year due to premium assistance through fundraising efforts. She offered the recent example of Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer's, helping to provide, through a large donation, health insurance for 33,000 uninsured children in the Williamson and Travis County areas.

No public testimony was taken at today's meeting.

The committee will continue hearings throughout the interim and report its findings to the 77th Legislature when it convenes in January of 2001.

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