Houston’s Overloaded ERs

This post at blogHOUSTON talks about an article in USA Today on Houston’s overloaded emergency rooms. The statistics in the article say that nearly 30% of residents in Harris County don’t have health insurance, which is much higher than the national average. Those folks are using the county’s emergency rooms, most notably Ben Taub as their primary means of healthcare. Illegal immigrants make up 21% of the county’s caseload.

I agree with the post’s author that there isn’t an easy solution. This story highlights the intersection of two issues that are roiling the national political waters and doubtless will be key points in the presidential race, healthcare and illegal immigration. I think the answer to the healthcare problem has to include reform that divorces the idea of health insurance from employment and also changes the perception that people have of what health insurance should cover (see this article comparing insurance and “insulation”). But I don’t know if our society, with so many who look to the government to be the solution for every problem, is going to be willing to go through the difficult transition such a change would require. The idea of universal healthcare, guaranteed by the government, is a much easier sell politically, even though it is driving most of the countries that currently have it to financial ruin. And perhaps the more pressing problem in Houston, which is a city that thrives on immigration, is the illegal immigrant problem. Doubtless they have some economic benefit to society with the cheap labor they provide, but the drain on education, social services and law enforcement are all costs that are borne by the rest of us. The U.S. should have a strong policy of encouraging immigration, but it should be on terms that the nation can control and enforce, which is another way of saying that before any reforms can be implemented on the system that allows people to come here, we need to be able to stop people from coming illegally and discourage the ones already here illegally from staying.

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