Originally published in the Houston Medical Journal.
When the gavel fell on Memorial Day to wrap the 2021 legislative session, we knew that lawmakers would return to the capitol city for at least one special session. Gov. Greg Abbott convened state lawmakers earlier this month to address a number of his priorities that did not pass during the regular session. A directive to prohibit the delivery or mailing of abortion-inducing drugs and property tax relief are among the items on the governor’s 10-plus item agenda that are likely to impact hospitals and the health care industry. Lawmakers still can propose legislation and hold hearings on topics that are not explicitly stated on “the call.” Time will tell how lawmakers choose to use their political power during the special session.
At the time of this writing, lawmakers have filed numerous bills to expand health care coverage for the uninsured—similar to legislation that failed to pass earlier this year. While the legislature’s political appetite to address coverage expansion likely still is spoiled by the federal government’s rescission of Texas’ Medicaid 1115 Waiver extension, the proposed coverage expansion bills create yet another education opportunity. An opportunity for lawmakers to discuss amongst themselves and their constituents the value comprehensive health care coverage can bring to residents and a state working to recover and rebuild from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri.
The slow and steady uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations also is an important marker of our state’s physical wellness. With just more than 40% of the state’s population fully vaccinated against the virus, a large share of Texas residents still are not protected against the more transmissible and potentially more deadly Delta variant. This is a major concern for many reasons. While more research is needed, early findings from research out of Scotland suggest that the Delta variant was twice as likely as the original strain of the virus to result in hospitalization among unvaccinated individuals. The Delta variant is estimated to spread about 50% faster than the Alpha variant, the first of the variants detected from the virus. The state again finds itself in a precarious situation—a race against time.
Health experts agree that the Texas needs to vaccinate 70% of the population to reach herd immunity. Whether enough Texans will get vaccinated and thrust the state toward herd immunity or whether the Delta variant will outpace vaccine hesitant Texans remains to be seen. Individuals must decide for themselves how to handle their health care. But the state still has time and power to ensure access to necessary health care services for the uninsured residents who inevitably fall ill whether to COVID-19 or another illness.
Many Texas residents pride themselves on living in the greatest state in the nation. Our state flag evokes strength and is lauded more than that of any other state. Maintaining that strength is essential. Today and every day, our legislature and its residents hold the keys to our state’s future. The power we wield is great. I hope that the Texas Legislature and our fellow neighbors will use that power to support the health and wellness that the economic success of our state depends on. Please join me and Texas hospitals in continuing to urge the legislature to support coverage expansion and urging unvaccinated Texans to protect their health and that of those around them. Time is running out.