By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Poor, underinsured, and uninsured residents in HidalgoCounty would have access to a better system of medical care under legislation approved on Wednesday, May 1 by the Texas House of Representatives, says Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, a Joint Author of the measure.
House Joint Resolution 147 by Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, would allow the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, with local voter support, to create a hospital district, which is public body whose main responsibility is to provide medical and hospital care for needy residents.
“Under this legislation, and other measures we are working on, we would be able to more effectively serve our region, which has a high rate of uninsured residents,” Canales said. “Also, we would increase and improve the delivery of affordable health care, while strengthening our area’s ability to draw federal funds to pay for emergency care for the poor and uninsured.”
In addition to Canales, the rest of the Hidalgo County House delegation – Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya – are Joint Authors of Guerra’s HJR 147.
Canales says a hospital district would also provide a stable source of local revenue to help pay for the successful creation of a planned University of Texas medical school in the Valley.
“Every major metropolitan region in Texas with a medical school has a hospital district, and those medical schools have a huge and positive economic and educational impact,” Canales noted. “The UT System already has pledged $100 million over the next 10 years for the Valley medical school. A hospital district that would work with this state-of-the-art medical school would go a long ways towards healing the sick, which is our moral obligation. Plus, this partnership would provide advanced medical education, create high-paying jobs, and reduce poverty.”
During the public hearing on Thursday, April 18 before the House Committee on County Affairs, which considered HJR 147, local and regional support were offered for the measure.
Donald Lee, representing the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, briefly addressed the House panel, while several other individuals – Jim Allison, representing the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, Paul Bollinger, representing Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Don McBeath, representing the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, and Terry Simpson, representing San Patricio County – registered, but did not testify, in support of HJR 147.
There was no opposition to the bill during the House committee public hearing.
An identical bill, Senate Joint Resolution 54 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, May 1.
Donald Lee, representing the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, and Sofia Hernández, representing Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, registered in favor, but did not testify, on behalf of SJR 54 when it was considered on Wednesday, April 17, by the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, of which Hinojosa is the committee chairman.
There was no opposition to the bill during the Senate committee public hearing.
Canales noted that the creation of a hospital district for HidalgoCounty would have to eventually be approved by local voters, emphasizing that any such governmental body “would always be accountable to the public.”
But first, because of a unique clause in state law that Canales says hurts Hidalgo County, HJR 147 will be among a number of other, unrelated constitutional amendments that will face voters statewide in November.
According to the bill analysis of HJR 147:
Tex. Const., Art. 9, sec. 7 authorizes the creation of a hospital district in HidalgoCounty. The constitution authorizes a maximum tax rate of 10 cents per $100 valuation of taxable property for the hospital district.
HJR 147 would repeal Texas Const., Art. 9, sec. 7.
The proposal would be presented to the voters at an election on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. The ballot proposal would read: “The constitutional amendment repealing Section 7, Article IX, Texas Constitution, which relates to the creation of a hospital district in HidalgoCounty.”
HJR 147 would allow HidalgoCounty to rid itself of a more than 50-year-old provision in the state’s constitution that limits its ability to create and operate a sustainable hospital district.
HidalgoCounty is the largest county in Texas without a hospital district and the only one in the state required to have a maximum tax rate of 10 cents per $100 property valuation for a hospital district.
Although this low tax rate might have seemed sensible when it was passed by the 56th Legislature in 1959, it hampers the ability of HidalgoCounty to form a sorely needed hospital district that would be solvent.
Other Texas counties have shown the ability to operate successful hospital districts with tax rates that range on average between 20 and 40 cents per $100 property valuation.
A community that can offer health care to uninsured residents before they reach the emergency room has an important responsibility to property taxpayers to keep health care costs low.
HJR 147 would afford HidalgoCounty the same taxing rate range that other counties enjoy for their hospital districts. If HJR 147 were passed and approved by voters, the formation of a hospital district in HidalgoCounty and the district’s tax rate still would require approval from the county’s voters during an election.