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Central Health provides a medical safety net / Statesman op-ed

This op/ed was published in the Austin American-Statesman on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015.


Imagine supporting a family of three on $1,000 a month. What sacrifices would you need to make to survive? How would you pay medical bills if you became sick? Would it be possible to support yourself and loved ones without assistance?

There is a common misconception that government-sponsored programs such as Medicaid health care coverage automatically protect those in poverty. In Texas, Medicaid is primarily limited to children and pregnant women in low-income households. Parents may qualify, but only if their household income is no more than 15 percent of the federal poverty level (equal to $251 per month for a family of three). Medicaid is unavailable in Texas to adults without children.

Central Health oversees programs for health care services for Travis County’s poor, uninsured and underinsured residents.

In Texas this translates to a large segment of our working population that fails to qualify for coverage yet cannot afford private insurance. This comes at a cost to us all: It affects our workforce and the health of our communities. When the uninsured need health care services, they often resort to costly emergency room treatment for lack of a primary care home. This drives up health care costs for all of us.

Fortunately in Travis County, the community has taken action to ensure vulnerable residents have access to high-quality health care. In 2004, voters passed a referendum creating Central Health — a local, single-purpose public health care district with a statutory mandate to provide health care services to low-income Travis County residents.

Today, Central Health-sponsored initiatives are making dramatic improvements to residents’ lives. Central Health’s Medical Access Program provides a full range of benefits for thousands of residents living at or below the poverty level who would otherwise not qualify for health care services. Central Health’s sliding fee scale program goes a step further, offering medical-related financial assistance to those earning up to double the federal poverty level. Central Health also leads initiatives to increase Affordable Care Act insurance enrollment and provide premium assistance to those who qualify.

However, to truly build up the health of our community, we recognize the need to re-evaluate and improve the way our health care system works.

The organizations and affiliates supported by Central Health, including the Community Care Collaborative, are leading the development of an intelligent, innovative and more efficient health care delivery system that will result in better health outcomes. We have leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars in federal performance incentives to initiate preventive care, women’s health, behavioral health and specialty care programs with measurable goals and outcomes. We are leading development of innovative information technology systems that allow health care, social service and financial assistance providers to collaborate, track and manage all aspects of patient care. All of these projects are directed toward keeping Travis County’s low-income patient population healthy and out of emergency rooms.

Central Health will continue building on the success of the past decade through partnerships with local health care delivery and education leaders. Based on voters’ support of Proposition 1 in 2012, we have binding agreements with Seton Healthcare Family to build a state-of-the-art teaching hospital to ensure all county residents have continued access to top-level trauma care.

Central Health is also partnering to support the new Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. Scheduled to open in summer 2016, the city’s first medical school will provide a new pipeline of doctors to Central Texas. To further the mission of Central Health, the faculty and students of the Dell Medical School will be immersed in community clinic and hospital settings that serve the county’s low-income population.

We all understand the economic growth in Central Texas is fueling escalating housing prices and property taxes — and this affects no one more than the low-income population. As a steward of taxpayer dollars we take a diligent approach to conducting business. This involves maintaining sufficient reserves to ensure the programs and services we support continue during economic downturns, while also considering the growth of our low-income population.

For the 2016 fiscal year, Central Health is proposing a tax rate of 4.5 percent over the effective tax rate. Most importantly, we believe our proposed tax rate and budget will allow us to manage the expectations set forth by the community which created and funds us, with the needs of those who depend on us most.

Katrina Daniel, Board of Managers Chairperson

Clarke Heidrick, Board of Managers