EDINBURG, RGV – The Healthy Hidalgo County Political Action Committee has sent media outlets a four-page document giving details on a proposed healthcare district for Hidalgo County.

Here it is:


Hidalgo County Healthcare

  • Hidalgo County is one of the fastest growing regions in the state, nearing one million residents, and today 33% of those under 65 years of age([1. United States Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/#table/PST045215/48215]) lack health insurance (one in four residents is uninsured).
  • The county is one of the largest urban areas without a public hospital or healthcare district to help care for uninsured residents so patients are left to seek care in the emergency room:
    • The ER is the most expensive setting to obtain non-urgent care: average cost is $1,233 per visit compared to the $100 average cost in most primary care clinics or urgent care centers([2. 2013 National Institute of Health Study: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0055491]).
    • Hospital ERs are required by federal law to provide care to all patients, regardless of their ability to pay. Therefore, patients without insurance, or the necessary fund to pay out-of-pocket insurance costs, often utilize emergency rooms as their main health care provider.
    • This puts a strain on ERs, and limits their ability to attend quickly to health emergencies.
    • The over-utilization of the ER also limits the ability of hospitals to control costs and to direct funding toward improving the quality of care and enhancing specialty services needed in the community.
  • One in four residents of Hidalgo County and surrounding communities had diabetes, and many others go undiagnosed until they visit the emergency room with complications([3. http://www.diabetescareproject.org/did-you-know-that-in-south-texas.html]):
    • Three in four persons with diabetes visit the ER or hospital each year.
    • Approximately $20 million is spent each year on diabetes care in the Rio Grande Valley (average cost per patient is $9, 480).
  • The demand for healthcare services in our community is outpacing the supply of doctors, nurses, and facilities available to care for residents of Hidalgo County.
    • Hidalgo County is federally designated as a medically underserved area.
    • The county is the 8th most populated county in Texas, yet ranks 70th in number of primary care physicians([4. http://www.dshs.texas.gov/chs/hprc/tables/2015/15DPC.aspx and http://www.merritthawkins.com/UploadedFiles/MerrittHawkings/Surveys/Merritt_Hawkins_NTREC_Physician_Workforce_Survey.pdf]).
    • There is only 1 primary care physician per 984 persons in Hidalgo County.
    • The average physician in Hidalgo County is 57 years old.
    • The county has a critical shortage of specialists to care for patients close to home (for example, there are doctor shortages in diabetes, trauma and cancer care; in the surgical specialties around the female reproductive system, the eyes and vision, the spine, the heart, and the transplant of major organs; psychiatry; and in specialties that correct anatomical problems in children.)
    • There is no comprehensive level 1 trauma center south of San Antonio that can provide the highest advanced care for patients with life-threatening injuries.
  • A healthcare district will help improve medical care for residents of Hidalgo County, and help strengthen the local economy.

What is a Healthcare District?

A Healthcare District is a local government authority that can help fund programs for improving patient care for residents of Hidalgo County, and help provide support to the U Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.

  • A 10-member board appointed by the county and the 4 largest cities will operate the district.
  • Board members by law are accountable to county elected officials (same as the largest hospital districts in Texas([5. The hospital districts in Bexar, El Paso, Travis, Harris and Dallas counties have appointed boards and are required to get final approval by county leaders for their budgets.]).
  • The district can contract with the medical school, local physicians, pharmacists, and hospitals for medical services.
  • A healthcare district is an alternative to the current county indigent program. It can help more low-income and uninsured individuals with or at risk for chronic conditions to find a medical home to prevent, diagnose and manager their medical condition.

How will funds be used by the Healthcare District?

By law the district can use funds for the following purpose([6. Texas Special District Local Laws Code, Section 11222.021 (f).]): District funds shall be used for district purposes, including improving health care services for residents of Hidalgo County, supporting the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, training physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals, obtaining federal or state funds for health care services, and providing community health clinics, primary care services, behavioral and mental health care services, and prevention and wellness programs.

What are the benefits of the Healthcare District?

If created by the voters on November 8, 2016, the healthcare district will have lasting and very positive impacts on our community in the years to come:

  • Deliver needed patient care here at home.
  • Search for new treatments for diabetes.
  • Support a first-class medical school and research center to fuel the local economy.
  • Locally train more doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.
  • If we do not obtain our share of federal dollars to serve the health care needs of our community, then they will got  other communities in Texas.

Healthcare Jobs for a Healthy Economy

  • Once fully built, the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine will generate millions of dollars each year in economic activity([7. “The Economic Impact of a Medical School Complex in the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” conducted for The University of Texas Board of Regents by TXP Inc., October 2012]).
  • Thousands of high-paying jobs will be created locally in the biotechnology and research fields as firms look to develop new drug treatments and medical devices([8. Ibid.]) for improving patient care.
  • Biotech firms will be attracted to the area similar to San Antonio that over the years has built a $30 billion economic health sector fueled by the medical school (1 of every 6 San Antonio employees works in the Bio-science and Healthcare industry today)([9. http://www.siliconhillsnews.com/2014/08/18/the-huge-impact-of-the-ut-health-science-center-at-san-antonio-on-the-city/ and http://www.sanantonioedf.com/industry-clusters/biosciencehealthcare/]).

Health Education

  • More than 200 physicians are expected to complete training at local hospitals each year. Studies show that over 60% of physicians stay and set up their practice where they train([10. http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/reports/PDF/1643.PDF?CFID=12204509&CFTOKEN=565])
  • The medical school will support more Pharmacy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Physician Assistant training programs.
  • Once fully built, the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine will train as many as 600 medical students a year([11. “The Economic Impact of a Medical School Complex in the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” conducted for The University of Texas Board of Regents by TXP Inc., October 2012]), with the first class of more than 50 students starting this fall. Nearly half of the students in the initial class have ties to the Rio Grande Valley (Mission, McAllen, Edinburg, Donna, Mercedes, La Feria, San Benito, Los Fresnos, and Brownsville).

Health Research

  • Plans are underway to build a research facility in McAllen that will house scientists, and attract grants to support research at the university.
  • Clinical trials can be conducted locally that will help to discover new cures and treatments for diabetes and heart disease.
  • We need to bring more research dollars to Hidalgo County. San Antonio’s medical school has more than $200 million for research to support scientists and attract new businesses to the area.

Quality Healthcare

  • The healthcare district can dedicate funding for community health clinics, including Nuestra Clinica, Hope Family Heath Center, El Milagro Clinic and Desrollo Humano Clinic, so they can in turn treat more patients in a primary care setting.
  • The healthcare district can permanently earmark funding for the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine so it can provide more patient care to low-income and uninsured patients by using faculty physicians, medical students and residents to deliver care; and fulfill its mission of training more doctors and specialists locally.
  • The healthcare district can use  portion of the funds to generate federal aid that will allow the healthcare district to improve the safety-net of care in Hidalgo County.

What is the Cost([12. The proposed rate and rate cut will be determined by Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court.])?

  • the proposed rate on the ballot: 8 cents
  • The county tax cut: Estimated 3 cents([13. Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, KURV Radio Interview on June 1, 2016.]) (county is required by law to cut its tax)
  • Cost to you: Estimate 5 cents([14. Calculation: Home Value ÷ $100 Value of Property x .05 Net Tax Rate = Your Cost (average home worth in county: less than $80,000 per U.S. Census data)]) or less than $4 a month for the average homeowner.
  • Residents over 65 and disabled Veterans or their surviving spouse qualify for certain exemptions.
  • Voters control the tax rate. If it goes up a cent the voters stop it through an election.

Editor’s Note: Photo Credit: RGG/Ena Capucion.

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian will publish policy papers from the Prosperity Hidalgo PAC on the issue of a healthcare district for Hidalgo County as they become available.