Texas ranks in the bottom quarter of the nation for healthcare, according to recent reports. As a state with one of the highest rates of uninsured — just over 25% — this comes as no surprise to many.
Just over 15% of all Americans go without health insurance, totaling nearly 48 million. This unfortunate statistic comes at a time when Medicare is experiencing historical funding cuts under the Bush administration. The concern is not so much how many lack insurance, but what kind of healthcare those uninsured receive.
Even officials from high-profile organizations, such as the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, are beginning to admit that receiving quality healthcare in the U.S. is not only dependent on where one lives, but also on whether or not one has healthcare coverage. At least one-quarter of those lacking health insurance, for instance, did not receive a recommended test in 2004 due to cost.
The devastating report released by the Fund this week openly stated a strong link between healthcare coverage and access to quality care. It evaluated such variables as uninsured breast cancer death rates and preventable hospital admissions, among others. If all states implemented wide-sweeping measures designed to grant health insurance to more individuals (such as Hawaii and several East Coast states in which 90% of working-age adults are now insured), as many as 90,000 deaths could be avoided, 22 million more could be insured, and the Medicare program could save $22 billion.
It’s strange to think that, in a nation basing its moral principles on the belief that all citizens are to be treated equally — and that everyone, regardless of citizenship, has certain “unalienable rights” — tens of thousands are literally dying due to lack of insurance.
The problem cannot be blamed on any one factor. Most healthcare professionals, for instance, are compassionate individuals working their hardest to provide quality care. But many facilities treating low-income individuals lack the proper staff, resources, equipment, and time to administer to all their patients effectively. Cities like Houston, Dallas, and Austin are experiencing enormous pressure to deliver care to more individuals than their facilities can realistically handle, due, in part, to the growing number of uninsured commuting from rural areas in the hopes of receiving more effective treatments. To make matters worse, Texas is experiencing a devastating shortage of young, qualified physicians.
Many would like to blame illegal immigrants for the Lone Star State’s healthcare standing — implying that if only there weren’t such a border-crossing problem, the healthcare system could be relieved of its pressure. And while Texas, like other border states, does take on certain financial responsibilities when caring for illegal immigrants, it’s not the worst aspect of the problem by any means. Texas also ranks high in the nation for poverty levels, unemployment, and expensive chronic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes.
Sixty-one percent of adults in Texas are obese. Thirty-five percent of children are also afflicted, and the numbers just keep increasing. That’s well over half of Texans considered extremely overweight. The condition is so costly due to its secondary effects, such as higher rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers, like breast cancer. Some would also argue that the psychological effects — depression, anxiety, social disorders, low productivity, to name a few — are rarely documented as linked with the disease at all.
The issue was once publicly avoided by officials, for fear of being accused of insensitivity, but obesity, is, in fact, a legitimate health concern that needs to be addressed. Its varied causes are only exasperated by recent reports that eating healthy is far more expensive than not. If many uninsured are of low income, and a certain percentage of those are, obviously, also obese, then it is becoming increasingly difficult for those with this problem to take the necessary steps to improve their condition. Not only can many obese Texans not afford proper healthcare, but neither can they afford health club memberships, or the healthier, more expensive foods. Neglecting the issue in the low-income population is not helping. In fact, it’s costing the state millions.
The rate of diabetes in Texas, too, deserves considerable attention. As of 2004, nearly 500,000 Texans had been diagnosed with diabetes, with the expectation that the number would grow. It’s the leading cause of kidney disease and blindness for those between the ages of 20 and 74, and is the sixth leading cause of death, though many officials believe it’s actually much higher. Diabetes can cause vascular disease, neurological problems, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. When we make the logical conclusion that many suffer from both, obesity and diabetes, that much statistical data on disease is based on those who actually made it to the doctor for diagnosis, and that many of those sufferers are going without insurance (and, therefore, quality care), we begin to get a true sense of this issue.
Improved healthcare in Texas is entirely within reach. Such a dishearteningly low national ranking does not need to be permanent. But better healthcare is not attainable without first addressing the situation, or the real causes of it. More effective government programs need to be instituted, a stronger recruitment plan for quality physicians put into action, and more affordable health insurance policies made available.
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