With more and more hospitals cutting back and closing across Texas — particularly in small towns and rural parts of the state — new data show that the state Legislature has a clear way to strengthen Harris County’s health care system. By accepting the state’s share of new federal Medicaid expansion funding, lawmakers in Austin would inject $935,251,060 in health care funding into Harris County, according to estimates calculated by the state’s Health and Human Services Commission and compiled by the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) Health and Wealth County Checkup.
Ten hospitals have closed in rural Texas in the last two years while larger hospitals, such as the Harris Health system in Houston, have recently eliminated hundreds of staff positions and made other cuts.
“If Texas leaders would accept the federal funds sitting on the table, it would ensure more Harris County residents have access to affordable health care,” said Anne Dunkelberg, Associate Director of CPPP. “Accepting the federal funding available is the number one step legislators could take to provide long-term stability for Texas hospitals, health care workers, and patients.”
Other states have successfully supported their hospitals and patients by accepting new Medicaid funding from the federal government. Conservative states have negotiated deals with the federal government to use the funding for private market-based plans instead of traditional Medicaid. The funding is intended to replace phased-out federal funding for unpaid hospital bills, but Texas leaders have declined to take action so far.
The resources are intended to connect uninsured low-wage workers, such as cooks, home health aides, and child care workers, with either traditional Medicaid or private health insurance. If the Legislature accepted the money on the table, it would shrink the estimated $920,054,995 that Harris County taxpayers currently spend each year on medical care for uninsured county residents. Currently an estimated 226,910 Harris County residents do not receive insurance from their employers or have access to any insurance assistance programs but could obtain coverage if the Legislature took action.
Business leaders, including the Texas Association of Business and numerous chambers of commerce, have called on the Legislature to accept the health care funds, in part because of the opportunity to create new jobs. Economist Ray Perryman calculated that a plan would create 60,157 new jobs in Harris County.
In the absence of legislative action, Texas is expected to lose more hospital jobs and access to medical care. The Quorum Report, an online media outlet monitoring state government, reports “rural hospitals are closing at such an alarming rate in Texas that hospital administrators are beginning to fear wide swaths of the state may be left without the benefit of trauma care and some areas may have no hospital within 100 miles.”
Legislators have filed numerous bills in Austin to accept the Medicaid funding but state lawmakers have not taken action on the bills. The legislative session ends June 1st.
More at TexasWellandHealth.org