Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 14, 2008
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

Reforming Health Insurance To Cover Uninsured, Save Lives

The award-winning Lubbock Chamber of Commerce Employer Health Plan boasts an enrollment of 10,000.

Launched in 2006 with authority from Senate Bill 10 passed during the 78th Legislative Session, the health plan became a community collaboration involving the area's two major hospital systems and several health insurance providers. During the first year of the program, businesses with 15 employees saved $12,000 and those with 70 saved $100,000.

Sitting at a recent hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on which I serve, I learned from the Lubbock people of their successful health plan and began considering the possibility of similar plans in other regions of the state.

The Central Texas Regional Health Coverage Project representatives testified at this same hearing that offering a multi-county basic health plan at affordable prices for small employers and their employees would improve the health and access to healthcare of those insured by the program. They also noted that such a plan would help small businesses remain competitive and maintain a healthy workforce.

The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) reports that the number of employers that offer health coverage decreases every year because of inaffordability. Hospitals are also negatively impacted by the uninsured. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) tells us that uncompensated care charges have increased from $5.5 billion to $11.3 billion over a five-year period, a tab the taxpayer often pays.

Reform is seriously needed. HHSC reports that the overarching goal of reform is to optimize investment in health care for more efficient use of funding and health outcomes, including investing in preventive care, reducing the number of uninsured Texans and optimizing Medicaid funding.

Another bill also called Senate Bill 10 from the 80th Legislative Session, authorized a subsidy health plan, the Health Opportunity Pool (HOP), which seeks to provide more low-income Texans with health care coverage, reduce reliance on expensive emergency room visits for basic care, and make it easier for the working poor to purchase employer-sponsored health insurance.

Altering its earlier approach through a waiver submitted to the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHSC has halted the first phase of implementation of the HOP, which would have provided coverage beginning later this fall to the parents of Medicaid and CHIP children through its existing contracted Health Maintenance Organizations. The agency determined that the limitations of this model outweighed the benefits, and thus shifted its focus to the longer-term solution, which will provide HOP enrollees premium subsidies that will allow them to select from commercial insurance options suited to their individual needs.

The new approach also protects funding for Texas' safety-net hospitals, rewards innovative local efforts to reduce uncompensated care, and establishes greater accountability and transparency in reporting uncompensated care costs.

HHSC has reported that "reimbursing hospital providers at the most expensive end of the care continuum does little to address root causes. Improving access to primary and preventive care will moderate indigent care costs and growth."

One-quarter of Texans lack health insurance, the highest uninsurance rate in the nation. With an average cost of family coverage at $12,000 a year, many families cannot afford health insurance.

A 2008 study by Families USA, a non-profit organization, found that out of 11,754,000 Texans between the ages of 25 and 64, 27.8 percent were uninsured. It further noted that uninsured Texans are sicker and die sooner than their insured counterparts. Between 2000 and 2006, nearly 17,700 Texans died in that age group because they had no health insurance.

It is imperative that we find and fund programs that make health insurance affordable for working individuals to purchase and for businesses to offer. We must also develop programs that provide health care access to the uninsured before emergency room treatment is sought, while reducing costs for the taxpayer. One of my top priorities for the 81st Legislative Session is to invest in creating a healthier population.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.

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