Texas border residents face complex barriers to accessing health care, due to multiple socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental challenges.

The challenge can hardly be overstated: according to the 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System estimates, 47.5 percent of Texas border residents age 18 and older lacked health insurance.

The border population suffers higher rates of obesity, diabetes, cervical cancer and tuberculosis than other Texans – problems compounded by an inadequate health workforce in the border region and lack of access to primary, preventive, and specialty care. There are indicators that the challenge can be met: the border population fares well on several leading health indicators, including infant mortality, heart disease and stroke.

Yet, high rates of uninsured people and extraordinary rates of communicable and chronic illnesses have a tremendous impact on the border’s health care system in terms of both human and financial cost. The higher disease rates are draining on an already overburdened health care system.  Today, the existing border health care delivery system is unable to provide basic primary medical care to those in need.

In addition to improving access to care, there is a critical need for increased surveillance and tracking of communicable diseases, environmental factors, and other influences on health.

The U.S.-Mexico Unit of the Centers for Disease Control manages and supports the Border Binational Infectious Disease Surveillance program to help with early warning and identification of potential disease outbreaks such as the Zika virus.  The lack of a public health laboratory to test biological specimens complicates routine surveillance of diseases and impedes timely implementation of public health control measures.

Yet, strides are being made to improve the public health infrastructure, including the creation of new educational and research institutions that can train culturally competent health care providers. The successful public health programs that have been implemented in the border region need to be replicated in order to broaden their availability.

The importance of improving public health is self-evident to individuals and communities, and the advantages of a healthy workforce for business are numerous and proven. Absenteeism and presenteeim–employees showing up for work while ill–are serious drains on overall productivity. Helping employees prevent or control chronic diseases can help reduce the burden of direct medical costs. Improved public health also helps attract and retain employers and productive, satisfied employees.

The ensure a brighter future for border citizens and protect the productivity of our workforce, we must improve access to health care. TBC supports funding for core public health programs and services and the elimination of health disparities, including:

  • Access to Care: increased access to basic medical care for the uninsured, creation of “medical homes” that provide a regular primary care provider or other source of ongoing health care and an adequate supply of qualified nurses;
  • Diabetes Mellitus: combat the epidemic in childhood and adult obesity and relate increased risks of diabetes; reduce both the mortality rate for diabetes patients and the need for hospitalization;
  • Immunization and Infectious Diseases: expand immunization coverage for young children; reduce the incidence of hepatitis and tuberculosis;
  • Respirator Diseases: reduce the rate of hospitalization for asthma;
  • Cancer: reduce cancer mortality;
  • Telemedicine: expand the appropriate use of telemedicine and telemonitoring to increase healthcare access in rural and medically underserved areas; and
  • Zika: control mosquito-borne illness by curtailing the illegal dumping of used and scrap tires.

Editor’s Note: The above essay is the fourth in a four-part series focusing on a new 20-page policy paper issued by the Texas Border Coalition. It is titled, “Policies and Proposals by the Texas Border Coalition to Advance a North American Century.” Part Four focuses on Healthcare (above), Workforce Training and Education, and Economic Development. Click here to read the Workforce Training and Education essay. Click here to read the Economic Development essay.

The Rio Grande Guardian has been granted exclusive rights to first publish the policy paper. Click here to read Part One, titled “Texas Border Coalition: How North America can command the 21st Century.” Click here to read Part Two, titled “Texas Border Coalition: A North American Agenda.” Click here (Border Security) and here (Transportation) to read Part Three.