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Featured, from left: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Mario E. Ramírez, M.D., of Rio Grande City, who was appointed in March 1991 by Gov. Bill Clements to serve a six-year term on the University of Texas System Board of Regents, share ideas and memories in Edinburg during the Tuesday, August 26 groundbreaking ceremony of the $54 million UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine Medical Education Building.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Legislation to create a Hidalgo County Healthcare District was filed on Wednesday, February 18, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, to provide a source of local funding for The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, as well as to deliver health care to the region while lowering the tax burden on Hidalgo County residents. Senate Bill 626 legislation to create a Hidalgo County Healthcare District is s a top priority this legislative session, and Hinojosa and Lucio will work together with the Valley House delegation to ensure its passage. “The Hidalgo County Healthcare District is critical for our families in the Rio Grande Valley to provide resources to support a medical school, to cover our community’s healthcare needs for both the insured and uninsured, and to decrease the tax burden on our county taxpayers,” said Hinojosa. The McAllen-based lawmaker, whose District 20 covers most of Hidalgo County stretching northward to Nueces County, includes Edinburg, where major facilities of the UT-RGV School of Medicine are going to be built. Hinojosa said without the healthcare district, hospitals in deep South Texas, which are required by federal law to provide emergency medical care, wind up tapping into public funds in order to provide critical care to patients, regardless of their ability to pay. “Our healthcare providers provide millions of dollars in care to people who can’t afford it ever year, forcing them to pass the bill onto county taxpayers or to people with insurance through higher fees and premiums,” said Hinojosa. “The healthcare district will benefit taxpayers by bringing more federal dollars to the county and putting the uninsured into the system with a focus on prevention and early treatment.” Lucio, who represents a portion of Hidalgo County, echoed Hinojosa’s call for action. “I am pleased to joint author this bill which is critical to healthcare delivery in Hidalgo County. We have some of the highest rates of uninsured individuals and amongst the worst health care outcomes in the nation,” said Lucio, who represents Senate District 27. “Senate Bill 626 will allow Hidalgo County to improve our indigent care program as well as leverage and draw down additional federal funds to address health disparities,” the Brownsville lawmaker said. “The Hidalgo County Healthcare District will provide the ability to improve health outcomes in some of the most vulnerable communities, and the benefit to all cannot be underestimated.”

••••••

Sen. Hinojosa files Hidalgo County Healthcare District measure; seeks state funding to attract and keep more doctors to border, rural areas

By JENNIFER SÁENZ
and
DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Legislation to create a Hidalgo County Healthcare District was filed on Wednesday, February 18, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, to provide a source of local funding for The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, as well as to deliver health care to the region while lowering the tax burden on Hidalgo County residents.

Senate Bill 626 legislation to create a Hidalgo County Healthcare District is s a top priority this legislative session, and Hinojosa and Lucio will work together with the Valley House delegation to ensure its passage.

“The Hidalgo County Healthcare District is critical for our families in the Rio Grande Valley to provide resources to support a medical school, to cover our community’s healthcare needs for both the insured and uninsured, and to decrease the tax burden on our county taxpayers,” said Hinojosa.

The McAllen lawmaker’s District 20, which covers most of Hidalgo County stretching northward to Nueces County, includes Edinburg, where major facilities of the UT-RGV School of Medicine are going to be built.

Hinojosa said without the healthcare district, hospitals in deep South Texas, which are required by federal law to provide emergency medical care, wind up tapping into public funds in order to provide critical care to patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

“Our healthcare providers provide millions of dollars in care to people who can’t afford it ever year, forcing them to pass the bill onto county taxpayers or to people with insurance through higher fees and premiums,” said Hinojosa. “The healthcare district will benefit taxpayers by bringing more federal dollars to the county and putting the uninsured into the system with a focus on prevention and early treatment.”

Lucio, who represents a portion of Hidalgo County, echoed Hinojosa’s call for action.

“I am pleased to joint author this bill which is critical to health care delivery in Hidalgo County. We have some of the highest rates of uninsured individuals and amongst the worst health care outcomes in the nation,” said the Brownsville lawmaker, who represents District 27. “Senate Bill 626 will allow Hidalgo County to improve our indigent care program as well as leverage and draw down additional federal funds to address health disparities. The Hidalgo County Healthcare District will provide the ability to improve health outcomes in some of the most vulnerable communities, and the benefit to all cannot be underestimated.”

Hidalgo County is the most populous county in Texas without a healthcare district or hospital district. Both are governmental entities, with the power to raise taxes, but require approval from the voters in order to be created.

In 2013, Valley lawmakers passed a measure that resulted in Hidalgo County voters having the opportunity during the Tuesday, November 5, 2014 general election to authorize the establishment of a hospital district, with the proposal limiting the initial tax rate at eight cents per $100 appraised property valuation.

However, the measure was defeated, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Hinojosa said the new version, SB 626, reflects the concerns of voters, making it significantly different on numerous key aspects than the proposal voted down last November.

“In response to feedback received from voters, elected officials, and community leaders, we put safeguards into the legislation to ensure the most protections for taxpayers. The name was changed to ‘Hidalgo County Healthcare District’ to allow for a more comprehensive approach to the system we hope to implement,” Hinojosa explained.

The following are the key changes to the healthcare district legislation:

• The tax rate is now capped at 25 cents per $100 valuation;

• The budget must be approved by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court to ensure proper oversight;

• All residence homestead exemptions will be provided. This includes an exemption for elderly and disabled residents as well as a total exemption for 100 percent disabled veterans and their surviving spouse; and

• All rollback tax provisions apply.

Once the healthcare district is created in the future, proponents of SB 626 anticipate that the county will reduce their tax rate accordingly.

“This is a shift in money from the county to the healthcare district that multiplies our resources. Revenue that is raised lets us take advantage of a federal program allowing us to receive federal matching money for every local dollar invested – a three to one investment that creates significant earnings,” said Hinojosa. “This will go a long way in helping to grow the medical school and extend medical services, including mental and behavioral health, for all residents and stabilize our property taxes.”

This investment will bring millions of dollars into our local economy, create thousands of new jobs, produce an educated and healthy workforce, and a healthier Hidalgo County for all of our families and children, he added.

SEN. HINOJOSA SEEKS FUNDING FOR MORE PHYSICIANS IN BORDER, RURAL REGIONS

In a related healthcare and medical education measure which also would impact deep South Texas, Hinojosa, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, on Wednesday, February 11, filed Senate Bill 18.

That proposal is designed to strengthen the foundation of Texas’ physician workforce by aligning state funding for graduate medical education with the state’s need for more primary care physicians.

SB 18 contains a set of initiatives designed to address the state’s medical workforce needs by expanding graduate medical education (GME) and by establishing a permanent endowment to support GME today and in the future.

“We need to strengthen and grow our state’s primary care infrastructure and ensure access to primary care for our growing population,” said Hinojosa. “We have a severe shortage of physicians, especially in rural areas and along the border. The best way to increase the number of primary care physicians in our communities is to recruit and train them right here in Texas.”

He cited data which reports 80 percent of doctors who attend medical school and complete residency training in Texas remain in the state to practice medicine. Senate Bill 18 will allow more opportunities for residency slots with state funding invested into these programs and training.

“Specifically in the Rio Grande Valley, with the opening of the new medical school in 2016, it is critical that there are residency slots for our future doctors to be educated in the Valley, trained in the Valley, and stay and practice medicine in the Valley,” Hinojosa said. “I am proud to joint-author this legislation that will improve access to quality care for our Texas families.”

SB 18 priorities would:

• Create new medical residency training positions, with a focus on rural and underserved areas to help address our shortage of physicians;

• Expand Family Care Residency Programs and restore Primary Care Residency Programs to increase the
number of family and family and primary care doctors in the state;

• Ensure proper training so we have qualified faculty to teach residents; and

• Bring together established residency programs with new and developing residency programs so the
established programs can mentor the new programs.

SB 18 creates an endowment of $300 million to continue supporting graduate medical education. These funds will come from the dissolution of the Texas Medical Liability Joint Underwriting Association, as recommended in a report released by the Legislative Budget Board. http://www.lbb.state.tx.us/Documents/Publications/GEER/Government_Effectiveness_and_Efficiency_Report_2015.pdf

Nelson, who serves as Chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee – of which Hinojosa is Vice-Chair – emphasized that ”Texas needs to grow its health care workforce in order to keep up with the needs of our growing population.

“Access to quality health care depends on a strong workforce” she continued. “This bill will establish a permanent endowment to support graduate medical education today and in the future, and will bring us closer to our goal of one residency spot for every Texas medical school graduate as well as attract physicians from other states to Texas.”

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