AUSTIN – Health care costs have been rising in the United States for decades, with Texas experiencing the highest rate of increase.
Texas leaders say the lack of competition, transparency and customer engagement has caused health care costs to skyrocket.
State Reps. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, and Morgan LaMantia, D-South Padre Island, and state Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, spoke Saturday at the annual Texas Tribune Festival, often called TribFest. They said that in addition to addressing problems with drug companies, lawmakers could also do more to encourage patients to pay attention to costs and be thoughtful in their health care decisions.
According to recent data, Texas continues to have one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the country at 17%, and recent reports indicate that those with employer plans are spending a larger portion of their income on purchasing insurance.
Johnson said there is no quick fix to this problem because health care is a complex system, but state lawmakers are aware they need to find ways to reduce costs.
“I don’t think there’s one answer, I think there’s a thousand answers … and we’re talking about some of them,” Johnson said.
One solution proposed by LaMantia during the regular legislative session is to expand access to primary care through skilled health centers that provide comprehensive services to unserved communities.
LaMantia said access to quality health care is one of the biggest barriers because of the cost and time it takes to see a doctor.
For those without insurance, it’s nearly impossible, she said. Therefore, individuals wait until the last minute or until health problems reach critical levels before going to an emergency room, where the consequences could be more serious, she said.
This, LaMantia said, results in the health care system spending far more on care than if preventative measures were in place. She suggested that the state should make greater efforts to offer low-cost care options to save money and reduce costs, similar to what she had implemented in her South Texas community.
“What we saw was (community members) seeking health care; They took what they learned from the doctor and actually put it into practice. … And because of that, we saw a huge decrease in costs,” LaMantia said.
Another option, lawmakers said, could be an insurance cost-sharing program, with employers paying one-third, employees paying one-third and the state paying one-third. LaMantia said this is an option that would help small business owners who cannot afford to offer employee-funded health insurance.
LaMantia also said greater efforts need to be made to educate Texans about when and for what problems they should visit certain medical facilities or providers. For example, costs may be higher if a patient goes to hospital when they could have seen their GP instead.
Frank said he would support greater competition in health care to reduce costs.
“If hospitals are dominant or insurers are dominant, they can charge whatever they want,” Frank said. “I’m for competition… because you get better results.”