WASHINGTON, D.C. – The surge in Central Americans arriving on the southwest border is the number one issue on the agenda for the Border Health Caucus at its annual conference in Washington, D.C.

The event, which takes place today, will be attended by numerous border congressmen and top healthcare officials.

“Physicians along the border are working hard to help the immigrants flocking to the United States from Central America. They realize this is a humanitarian crisis that requires considerable medical attention,” said BHC board member Luis Benavides, a physician from Laredo.

“We are trying to get a medical record together for those immigrants traveling into the interior of the United States, to help them on their way. It is a big challenge but one being met head on by our members. We are assisting in whatever way we can, led superbly by Dr. Martin Garza of Hidalgo County.”

The conference, now in its ninth year, takes place in the Cannon Caucus Room, in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington. Other topics on the agenda include ensuring U.S. veterans receive timely care, the impact of transient diseases, and how to sustain Medicare when the formula used to pay physicians is inadequate and the impact this inadequacy has on seniors and Texans with disabilities.

BHC is part of the Texas Medical Association, the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 47,000 physician and medical student members. BHC’s mission is to ensure access to care for patients along the border.

Dr. Manny Acosta and Dr. Luis Benavides, leaders of the Border Health Caucus. (File photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)
Dr. Manny Acosta and Dr. Luis Benavides, leaders of the Border Health Caucus. (File photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

Dr. Manny Acosta of El Paso is chair of the BHC. He said this will be the ninth year the conference has drawn together health care and government experts to find solutions for health care issues facing border patients and their physicians. “This year’s crushing crisis of refugee children and their families streaming into America emphasizes the need for comprehensive care on the border,” Acosta told the Guardian.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, is the congressional chair of the conference. Dr. Austin I. King, the TMA’s president will, like Cuellar, kicks off the conference with opening remarks.

A panel discussion on health care for veterans will include remarks by U.S. Congressmen Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, Bill Flores, R-Waco, and Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. Other speakers on this panel include Dr. James Tucheschmidt, principal deputy under-secretary at the Veterans Administration, and Dr. King.

There will also be a panel discussion on the Affordable Care Act and the impact of Medicaid expansion in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Speakers on this panel will include U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, D-California, and Dr. E. Linda Villarreal, an Edinburg physician and chair of the TMA Board of Trustees.

Another panel discussion is titled ‘Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Sustainable Growth Rates and Waiver Opportunities and Options for States.’ Speakers on this panel will include U.S. Congressmen Michael Burgess, R-Houston, and .S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston.

Another panel discussion is titled ‘Undocumented Immigration: Who Is Responsible for Care?’ Speakers on this panel will include U.S. Representatives Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, and Amy Elizando, vice president for program services at the National Rural Health Association.

Another panel discussion is titled ‘Border Security and the Impact of Transient Diseases.’ Speakers on this panel will include Dr. Fernando Gonzalez, lead epidemiologist for the El Paso Department of Public Health, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the eight previous BHA annual conferences, seven have been held in the nation’s capital. The other, held last year, took place in Laredo, Texas. Next year’s conference will be held in El Paso.