Health Care Costs Examined at Capitol
AUSTIN - The Finance Subcommittee on Rising Health Care Costs heard today that new demands are being placed on the Texas budget .
Don Gilbert with the Health and Human Services Commission briefed the committee on the increasing demands on the state's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). He said that each month, more than 30 thousand new children are enrolled, creating a higher caseload than originally anticipated. Assuming that costs remain constant, he estimated that the program is 40 to 50 million dollars short. He added that they are looking for other sources of revenue for the program and is optimistic that they can be found and that there are no plans to change the enrollment process or benefits.
Sheila Beckett, Executive Director of the Employees Retirement System of Texas, spoke on how ERS is administering its health programs for state employees, state retirees, and many higher education employees. More than 500 thousand participants are in those plans. She also briefed the senators on the details of the current state health plan, including the problems the state's HMO, HealthSelect Plus, is having. Like others, it currently loses money.
James Sarver, of the University of Texas and Steve Hassel, from Texas A&M, spoke regarding the costs of employee health insurance at the two largest state university systems. Both institutions are asking employees to pick up a larger share of the costs through higher copays rather than higher monthly premiums. Other problems include the ever-increasing cost of prescription drugs.
Charles Dunlap of the Teacher Retirement System spoke on the challenges facing his agency administering the new statewide health care system for teachers approved by the 77th Legislature. Applications are now being received for this program, with about 20 thousand accepted by the system so far.
The Texas Senate Finance Subcommittee on Rising Health Care Costs will have one more meeting for public and invited testimony at a date to be announced later. The subcommittee is chaired by Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock. Members include senators Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Todd Staples of Palestine, Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi, and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo. The subcommittee recessed subject to call of the chair.