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Carlos B. Lopez, Constable

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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - June 2006

The Travis County Hospital District reports that Texas is number one in the nation when it comes to its citizens not having health insurance. Travis County enjoys a higher rate of ensured than the state average, but even so, 145,000 Travis County residents have no health coverage for preventative care, emergency services or prescription drugs. According to Hospital District data, 74% of the uninsured work at full time jobs where employers either do not provide insurance or employees cannot afford or choose not to be insured. Employer coverage for adults has dropped by 6% and 8.5% for children in the last year.

In 1980, health care costs per person averaged $1,000. Today average costs exceed $6,000 per person and it is estimated that by 2010 health care costs will top $9,000 per person per year. With the highest health care costs in the industrialized world, employers are forced to increase the cost to employees, reduce coverage or both. Healthcare costs have forced many businesses into bankruptcy and have had a destabilizing effect on many of the largest corporations. Unless significant changes occur with regard to how health services are organized and how we take care of ourselves, fewer businesses and employees will be able to afford health care coverage.

People without health coverage do not just disappear. They tend to not get their shots, don’t treat their colds, try to ignore symptoms of more serious health issues, miss more work or school, often wait too long for treatment to be effective and ultimately end up at the most expensive place for treatment – the hospital emergency room. The cost of treating the uninsured in Texas alone is in the billions of dollars per year and the lines at emergency rooms are getting longer.

Patricia Young, Chief Executive Officer of the Travis County Hospital District, expressed her concern that many of us are contributing to the health care costs as a result of our habits. Smoking, alcohol and drugs all contribute to the costs of providing healthcare. But Ms. Young is far more concerned by the obesity epidemic in America and the associated costs of treating heart, kidney and lung disease, diabetes and certain cancers that are helped along by obesity. Treatment for individual cases can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and more. Health care experts agree that the two most significant actions that can be taken to lower the cost of healthcare would be for everyone to have access to early and preventative care and for all of us to take better care of ourselves.

In the wealthiest nation in the world, healthcare should be a right for all its citizens. The fact is that we are just about the only industrialized nation in the world where health coverage is not available to millions of citizens. But with our rights come certain responsibilities of citizenship. In the health care arena there are things most of us can do to reduce our risk of serious illness and lower the costs of our healthcare. Mayor Wynn has set a goal for Austin to become the fittest city in America. It is not just about bragging rights. Local governments spend millions of dollars each year treating people who do not have insurance and some that do but did not take better care of themselves. Mayor Wynn’s goal is an economic strategy aimed at reducing the increasing costs of treating illnesses by Federal, State and local taxpayers that are preventable. See you on the hike and bike trail.



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