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Hurricane Harvey’s impact on healthcare

Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia, and State Senator Carol Alvarado, address the problems of inadequate healthcare in Harris County.

NORTHEAST HARRIS COUNTY – The U.S. Census indicates that this area of Harris County from Kingwood to Lynchburg went from 14% without health insurance to about 21% following Hurricane Harvey. This is generally thought to be a product of locals having to make the difficult choice of spend the money to have health or spend the money to restore living.

Recently leaders in the health field and Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, along with other public officials, addressed the state of health in Harris County on November 13 talking about the economic impact and healthcare needs.

A survey provided a picture of Hurricane Harvey depriving locals of access to quality healthcare. In addition to the data and research on health care in Harris County the research suggests ways to improve it.

Some 32 Billion dollars was spent on unnecessary Emergency Room visits in America last year. Fifty-six percent of Hispanics are uninsured, four times the rate of whites and roughly three times that of blacks and Asians. Undocumented Hispanics accounted for only about six percent of the total.

Life expectancy varies widely depending on which part of the county one lives and the population has superseded regional health care infrastructure. Life expectancy in Harris County is said to be about 78.7 years. But it may be as low as 65 or as high as 89 depending on where you live in the county.

It was found that obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes were most numerous chronic health problems affecting county residents. Thirty-two percent meet the definition for obesity, 29 percent suffer from hypertension and 13 percent have diabetes, numbers that mask even higher rates in the disadvantaged areas.

Nineteen percent of responded they had trouble obtaining food in the last 12 months. More than 10 percent of black residents found it difficult regularly and a quarter of both blacks and Hispanics had the problem.

But there is a difference of opinion between private enterprise and county government as to what the nature of insurance problems are.

Freddy Warner, Chief Government Relations Officer at Memorial Hermann Health System, sees solutions to the healthcare industry somewhat differently but all agree uninsured contributes to an overall problem by driving up costs.

In 2018, close to 5 million uninsured people lived in Texas, about 17.7% of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The uninsured rate in Harris County was 22% compared to a national uninsured rate of 8.5%.

According to Warner, “I think that it’s important for the business community to understand some of the fiscal dynamics that underpin healthcare policy at the federal level and also at the state level. I think it’s important for people to understand the challenges that healthcare providers, hospitals, physicians have in serving a state and serving a region that has such a high percentage of uninsured.”

Warner said the focus should be on expanding healthcare to provide access and lower the costs of care so that there are better ways to prevent emergency-room-only patients and provide health care.