March 15, 2007
As we strive to keep our economy healthy, there are few things we can do that are as important as keeping our people healthy. Unfortunately, Texas’ efforts in this regard are pretty pathetic – so much so that one has to wonder whether some people who claim they support economic development really mean it.
Texas already ranks first (in the worst way) among the 50 states in the numbers of uninsured people and uninsured children. The issue is even more important when it comes to small businesses. In many cases, owners care deeply about their employees and would love to provide insurance – but they simply can’t afford it.
Senate Bill 922, which was amended onto another bill and became law in 2007, increases access to health care and reduces the number of uninsured, resulting in improved health of small business employees and their family members. It also reduces the likelihood of small business employees and their family needing state funded health benefits. And it helps small businesses compete for employees while encouraging innovative solutions for providing health care.
The bill allows two or more counties to establish a regional health care program for employees of small business owners, paid for by participating employers, employees, and the state (via grants). It also allows local officials to use gifts, grants, or donations to operate the program and provide services, and it creates a state grant program for a pilot project.
The bill gives counties flexibility to design their program in a way that best meets their needs. While there’s nothing stopping counties from doing something like this now, the state money is a crucial missing piece.
And few can argue the need for the program. According to the Texas Department of Insurance, 73 percent of Texas businesses are small employers with fewer than 50 employees, and only 37 percent offer health insurance. A 2004 Texas Department of Insurance survey found that the number one reason small employers don’t offer health insurance to their employees is its high cost.
This isn’t merely a health program that protects more Texans in a common-sense, low-cost way. It’s not merely an economic development program that improves productivity, keeps workers healthy, and aids small businesses. It’s also a tax-savings measure that will save Texans the staggering expense of people who can’t afford vastly cheaper preventative care and instead go to the emergency room, many times on the taxpayers’ tab, when they’re too sick to put it off anymore.
It’s also exactly the sort of innovation we need in this state to take care of Texans at a price we all can afford.