By Margery Engel Loeb and Camille D. Miller

Texas is home to world-class medical schools and institutions that are known far and wide for their state-of-the-art treatment and expertise. However, many Texans, and especially Texas women, do not have easy access to this remarkable resource.

Some of the health care reforms, now being considered in Congress, hold the key that will open the door. We can look forward to a world in which more women and their families have coverage than at any time in our nation’s history. In Texas, there has long been bipartisan, grassroots support for health care for women and children.

For Texas women, and the 21 million women across our nation without health insurance, that will be a truly life changing -- and in many cases, lifesaving -- moment.

Imagine a system in which, for the first time ever, women won’t be charged up to 45 percent more than men for identical coverage, and maternity and reproductive health will be part of a basic care package.

The reforms will also include coverage of important preventative tests like mammograms. And they will put a stop to the shameful practice of denying health coverage because of “pre-existing medical conditions” such as breast cancer and pregnancy, or evidence of “uninsurability” such as being a victim of domestic violence.

The inclusion of women’s health needs is so essential to the health of all Americans that the deans of 39 of America’s 50 schools of public health -- including the deans at University of North Texas and Texas A&M -- have endorsed a scientific, data-driven report by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health stating that such treatments and services should be part of any national health plan.

According to the report, “a well-woman standard of care -- one that includes access to comprehensive care and services essential to reproductive health -- will ensure that women can attain good health, maintain it through their reproductive years, and age well.”

By ensuring coverage of prevention and basic health services like maternity benefits, the proposed reforms will create a system that provides not just “sick care” but true health care for women and ultimately for all citizens of our nation.

In these tough economic times, such changes can’t come soon enough to Texas. According to a report released recently by Families USA, a nonpartisan consumer advocacy group, family health care premiums for Texas workers rose about four and a half times faster than earnings from 2000 through 2009. That troubling figure may help explain why Texas also has the highest number of residents in the nation lacking health coverage (26.3 percent).

In fact, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by experts at Baylor University, the counties with the six largest Texas cities ranked the worst in the nation in terms of working-age people without insurance. Houston’s Harris County tops the list with 37.6 percent of working-age adults under 65 lacking health coverage. Dallas County is a close second with 33.3 percent uninsured. Bexar, Travis, Tarrant and El Paso counties don’t fare much better.

Texas has the infrastructure, the innovation and the expertise to provide top-quality care for all of its citizens. Now all that’s needed is for our elected officials to help Texas live up to its world-class reputation for cutting-edge medical care by ensuring that Texans have affordable access to that care. In doing so, they will be making history for women and putting the keys to good health into the hands of all Americans.
Loeb, a member of the Women Donors Network and on the steering committee of their "Moving Forward" initiative on reproductive and other health issues, lives in Victoria. Miller, president/CEO of Texas Health Institute, lives in Austin.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Texas Lone Star Forum. 10/09