Senator Tommy Williams
P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0104

Guest Column
June 20, 2003
Contact: Janet Stieben
(512) 463-0104, (281) 296-0023

Texans Deserve Affordable Health Insurance
By State Senator Tommy Williams

Few of us would ever advise our families, friends or employers to drop their health insurance plans - the risk would be too great.

Unfortunately, in the coming year, 465 Americans are expected to lose their health insurance every two hours. In Texas alone, almost 4.5 million residents don't have insurance, and roughly 70 percent of these uninsured adults are employed. Our state has the second highest percentage of working uninsured in the United States.

It's a big problem that's getting bigger in Texas, but help is on the way.

Senate Bill 541, the Texas Consumer Choice of Benefits Act, addresses this problem in a simple and straight forward manner. Carriers will be allowed to offer affordable policies. Texans won't have to purchase dozens of unwanted benefits now required by Texas law. This legislation has recently passed the Texas Legislature and has been sent to Governor Perry for his signature.

However, enactment of this legislation is only the first step. The industry must now step forward and respond with a policy which meets the basic health insurance needs of the uninsured at an affordable price. Early estimates show premiums could be reduced by 20% or more.

Government mandates have saddled Texas employers and employees with some of the highest health care costs in the nation. Texas law requires almost seventy mandated benefits in all policies sold in Texas -- among the highest number of mandated benefits in the nation. Requiring such a wide range of treatments and services is a burden many Texans simply cannot afford. The reduced-mandate policies will not alter or remove the comprehensive plans available in today's marketplace, they will simply provide an affordable, additional choice for buyers who have been squeezed out of our current market.

The uninsured receive medical care and their coverage costs all of us, indirectly. An estimated $4.7 billion was spent in 1998 to provide health care for the uninsured, and hospitals wrote off more than $2 billion in charity care.

Senate Bill 541 gives families choice and access to quality, affordable health insurance. When Texas employees and employers can't afford health insurance, all the mandates in the world are useless. Allowing these consumers to choose benefits and services will bring major relief to hard-working Texas families and their employers.

(Senator Williams was elected to the Texas Senate last November. He previously served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1997 to 2003. Williams' Senate District includes Chambers, Liberty, Orange and parts of Harris, Jefferson and Montgomery counties.)