White, Emmett & Duke Address UTMB Cuts & Houston Area Care Crisis
I was glad to see an opinion column in yesterday’s Houston Chronicle by Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Executive Ed Emmett about cuts in services for the uninsured caused, in part, by Hurricane Ike damage at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
In their column, Mayor White and Judge Emmett , joined by the well-known Dr. Red Duke, focus less on job reductions at UTMB and the damage these layoffs will do to Galveston’s economy, though the job losses are mentioned, and more on the need for health services to be restored for the the entire metro region.
From the opinion piece–
“Before Hurricane Ike, the upper Texas Gulf Coast was already at the center of a storm — the crisis of unreimbursed medical care provided to working people and children not covered by health insurance….After Ike decimated UTMB in Galveston, the storm surge receded but other medical institutions in the region have been flooded by the patient case load displaced from this historic, invaluable Texas asset….Both the state of Texas and counties in the upper Gulf Coast need to quickly develop a plan to restore these services with three related elements. First, funds from FEMA and insurance policies need to be available immediately to restore the medical, research and physical facilities to the capacity required before Hurricane Ike. We should let both private insurers and FEMA know that we expect prompt payment on valid claims. The UT System must make hard choices concerning the location of some clinical facilities and recognize historic ties to the island, while being convenient to customers, including more insured patients…. Second, there must be a plan for sustained funding of some portion of uncompensated care for the region served by UTMB. The Harris County Hospital District was formed over four decades ago in response to the crisis of unreimbursed care within Harris County. There should be a formula for fair funding of contributions by the counties served by UTMB in proportion to the uninsured patients served from those counties….In the longer term, leadership should consider the need for one or more hospital districts. In addition, Texas should continue its historical support for this great medical school from general funds….Third, some portion of the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for Texas should be earmarked for a program to compensate those providers who now receive the uninsured patients diverted from UTMB.”
The cuts at UTMB by the University of Texas Board of Regents are a case of kicking the little guy when he is down. The job losses in Galveston in the aftermath of Ike, and the cuts to already stretched services for the uninsured, strike at a poor area of our state, and at individual patients who for the most part lack the ability to fight back without help.
I hope the public opinions now expressed by Mayor White, Judge Emmett and Dr. Duke are just the beginning of a strong effort by elected officials and medical professionals to help restore what has been lost, and help improve what was, even before the hurricane, a difficult situation.
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