Texas pride is not just a myth. We lead the nation in tourism, agriculture, energy and electronics. When it comes to residents with health care insurance and access to mental care, we also lead the nation. Unfortunately, it’s on the wrong end of the spectrum. Texas has more than five million uninsured individuals, which is sadly the highest number in the nation. When it comes to access to mental care, we rank 49th out of 50 states. Those are not numbers to be proud of.
We can remedy this. The business community needs to support the extension application for the Texas Medicaid 1115 waiver. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has filed this waiver extension to help many Texans in need of medical care, with a portion of the funding to support uncompensated care.
The Medicaid 1115 waiver may not cover all uninsured residents, but it would decrease these disturbing numbers allowing more residents to receive medical care. Many of these uninsured individuals are working but cannot afford health care. If we could provide them coverage, the Texas workforce would be healthier, miss less time from work and be more productive, boosting our overall economy.
The Medicaid 1115 waiver will help individuals with chronic illness and behavioral health issues. We need to maximize the federal funding through payments to public health providers and waiver financed-directed program payments to physicians, hospitals and other programs.
Mental health is so important to our overall health. Depression increases the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Most of us understand the relationship between physical and mental health and yet, we still place a negative stigma on mental health treatment.
Glenn Close once wrote, “A society which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once unspeakable, still remains largely silent when it comes to mental illness.” Let’s remove the negative labels. We need to focus on the positive attributes of the person seeking treatment.
Mental health care needs to continue in primary care settings. Like any health care issue, we must avoid stigma and force the discussion towards an overall health assessment.
Our focus on mental health treatment is especially urgent for our children and adolescents. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that suicide is the second most frequent cause of death among our teens. For the past 14 months, our children have lived with anxiety due to the ongoing pandemic. They have routinely faced numerous issues magnified by isolation. Sadly, suicide attempts have increased.
We need to be a part of the solution as our young people represent our future – they need our support. Experts say communication is key and we need to shed our preconceived notions and simply listen. Take the time to communicate openly with your children and family. Emphasize that you care about their well-being and you want to help no matter the problem.
While May was Mental Health Awareness Month, there needs to be an urgent focus 365 days a year. We need to educate our family and friends because individuals seeking mental health treatment should be embraced with compassion.
Approving the Medicaid 1115 waiver extension would be a big step in improving access to health care and mental health treatment for our Texas residents, something we could all be proud of.
Steve Love is the President and CEO of the DFW Hospital Council.