EDINBURG, RGV – On Friday, August 4, the 12th Annual Border Health Conference will be hosted by the Border Health Caucus at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.
The Border Health Caucus is an offshoot of the Texas Medical Association, the nation’s largest state medical society with over 50,000 physician and medical student members.
The BHC’s conference will feature health care experts that will discuss access to medical care along the U.S.-Mexico border and recent efforts by the Trump Administration and the Republican leadership in Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Speakers will include Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, and Chris Traylor, former executive commissioner of the Texas Health & Human Services Commission.
“The Border Health Caucus is made up of the medical societies along the Texas-Mexico border and including Nueces County and Bexar County,” Dr. Carlos Cardenas, MD, President of Texas Medical Association, said, “We are sponsoring a conference to address a variety of issues that may be unique to the border and its population.”
This will be the 12th annual conference put on by the BHC. The venue alternates each year. One year it is in Washington, D.C., the next along the border, and then back to Washington, etc. In the past, the conference has been held in Laredo and El Paso. However, this is the first year it has been held in the Rio Grande Valley.
BHC leaders say holding the conference now could not be more timely. In a Livestream on Facebook recently, Dr. Cardenas, said the one constant in healthcare is things are constantly changing. The Border Health Caucus says it plans to add a perspective to this conversation and to offer answers as to where healthcare is heading.
“We are all stepping up in organized medicine in order to inform the public,” Dr. Luis Benavides, MD, of Laredo, said. “The issues of health care are complex and change virtually every day, especially on the border. That is why our conference is so important.”
One of the topics slated to be discussed is the healthcare scene on the other side of the border. Dr. Hector Gonzalez, MD, Director, City of Laredo Health Department will provide a unique point of view, with his experience gained as a former Mexican citizen and medical officer. To add to that, Dr. R.J. Dutton, PhD, Director, Office of Border Services, Texas of State Health Services, Dr. Benavides and Dr. Victor Gonzalez, MD, of McAllen, will also provide their perspectives.
Dr. Victor Gonzalez is an ophthalmologist, owner of the Valley Grande Institute, and a member and former president of the Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society. Asked why the BHC conference is important, Gonzalez said: “It shines a light especially on the border for those in Washington, D.C. We will have several congressmen here and we want to shine a light on issues that we hope Congress will pay attention to. The important thing about the border is that receives mostly negative publicity not the real story. Seldom is the real story told.”
Asked if Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare will be discussed at the conference, Dr. Victor Gonzalez said: “Absolutely, and the fact that reimbursements to doctors have been cut for Medicaid and Medicare.”
Dr. Victor Gonzalez said the TMA has a great history of helping the border region. He cited the legislative push to enact tort reform, in order to make the region a more attractive option for doctors, and the group’s work in getting the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission established. Gonzalez said a little-known fact is that the Border Health Caucus grew out an idea by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett following a border tour from El Paso in 2004.
Asked if there will be a community health component to the Border Health Conference, Dr. Victor Gonzalez answered affirmatively.
“We will have Dr. Hector Gonzalez, director of health for Laredo, and Eddie Olivarez, from Hidalgo County’s health department, speaking. Also, we are hoping we can encourage healthcare experts like Ann Cass and Lucy Ramirez from Hidalgo County to attend and speak. We want to hear from a variety of voices.”
Ann Cass chairs the RGV Equal Voice Network’s health working group. Lucy Ramirez Torres is CEO of Nuestra Clinica del Valle.
“We want to make sure people understand that the health care industry is 1/6 of the national economy but in RGV and the border and in particular in the RGV it represents closer to 25 percent to or more. It is a major economic driver in the Valley,” Dr. Victor Gonzalez said.
Asked how healthcare legislation in Washington, D.C., and Austin affects the border region, Dr. Victor Gonzalez said: “It’s not an exciting time for medicine. It’s not only the uncertainty but it’s the absence of willingness for people to understand how the absence of adequate funding has negatively impacted our growth down here.”
The Border Health Conference runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 4. It is free to attend and open to the public. A reception is being held the night before, also at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, from, 6 to 8 p.m.
Editor’s Note: The main images accompanying this story were taken at the Border Health Conference in El Paso in 2015. Photos courtesy of TMA.