This past week, the world celebrated one of my more stunning achievements. Liz and I celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary. I put this one in the “win” column because, while we started dating when I was 14-years-old, she turned me down the first time I asked her out.
It was Boswell High School Homecoming. 1972. I worked up some courage, caught up with her near the library, looked her straight in the eye, and said, “Liz, will you go to homecoming with me?” Without hesitating, she looked me equally straight in the eye and replied, “No. I’m waiting on someone else to ask me.”
My father sort of warned me that might happen. When I was in the eighth grade the year before, he and I were driving home past the house Liz grew up in. I pointed to her house and proclaimed, “Daddy, you see that house? That’s where Liz McDaniel lives. Next year, I’m going to date her.”
He shook his head and said, “Son, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”
Liz and I have known each other since we both attended Saginaw Elementary School in Saginaw, Texas. I initially got goobered up over her when I was in the sixth grade and she was a seventh-grade cheerleader. I remember distinctly going to my first pep rally in the Wayside Middle School gym, which was exciting enough in its own right. But when she came running out on the floor, well, let’s just say she had me at “Go Wildcats.”
Anyway, I’m thinking that I can declare a victory now that we’ve been married 29 years. Besides, I’m obviously over the fact that she turned me down for the first date.
Another Big Anniversary
This summer also marks the second anniversary of Code Red, a landmark assessment of health care in Texas. An update of Code Red was released last month. As I said in 2006 when the first one appeared, it’s worth reading.
There are several notable things about the report. One is the smart, renowned group of authors and sponsors – including folks from major medical schools in the state, key hospitals, and companies such as H-E-B. Another is the urgent tone pleading for improvements in the way Texas provides health care.
But the most significant thing about Code Red, I think, is how perfectly sensible its findings and recommendations are – and how hard it seems to be to get the state’s political leadership to act on them in a way that supports the health-related assets and investments we’ve built up over generations.
To start with, Code Red provides a collection of sobering statistics about the health of Texans:
- About a quarter of us have no health insurance, the highest percentage in the nation (and almost 10 points higher than the national average).
- 80% of the uninsured have at least one working family member.
- Texas can’t handle the continuing increases in Medicaid, state, and county healthcare spending – and current trends in how we treat the injured and sick will actually make today’s problems worse.
- There’s a significant shortage of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals across the state, a shortage that only pushes up healthcare costs.
How to Get Healthy
The list of recommendations is actually longer than it was two years ago. Among other things, the report states:
- Texas “must increase its investment in the health of various populations” through health programs and disease prevention.
- The state should continue efforts to obtain additional federal funds for health care and prevention.
- The public and private sectors should work to make health insurance and benefits affordable for small businesses and their employees.
- The state must continue increasing its investment in training doctors and nurses.
The top priority hasn’t changed in the last two years, and it’s just as compelling now as it was then:
“Texas should adopt the principle that all individuals living in Texas should have access to adequate levels of health care.
This is an admirable, essential goal. It speaks to basic stewardship and compassion in our state, and it builds on the giant investments of the past that have made Texas a leader in health care for those who can afford coverage. It also underpins one of our great economic hopes for the new century – if our people are healthy, our economy will be too.
But unfortunately, it’s not a driving principle for those in leadership at the Capitol. They have continued to ignore solutions and reject investments for even incremental improvements in our healthcare system, shrugging off Texas’ standing as the place where children and all people are least likely to have health insurance.
But there is a lot of hope – as demonstrated by Code Red and the dedicated public servants who continue to find answers to the questions it raises.
More and more people, ranging from business leaders to health advocates to small business owners to ordinary Texans, are demanding solutions to our healthcare challenges. They’re electing folks who will take on these issues and invest in our future.
Such investments have already richly benefited my generation. Just last week, I wrote about the inspiring facilities in Houston and Galveston that are fighting to cure cancer, stop infectious diseases, and save premature babies and severely burned folks from all over the state and continent.
I think it’s past time for our own generation to make that kind of investment – one that our children and grandchildren will marvel at generations from now – that pays off by extending and enriching our lives as well as theirs.
It’s clear that Texans are ready for that effort. There’s plenty of proof, including a ballot initiative last year in which we voted overwhelmingly to spend $3 billion fighting cancer. It’s a great commitment, but it’s only a start. Code Red lays out a path to do more in a smart, ambitious way.
It’s time to do something about it.