Unequal access to health care is having a hefty financial impact on Harris County’s economy, new report says – Houston Public Media

The working poor in Texas are too poor to qualify for an insurance plan at Healthcare.gov, but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr / KUT

A lack of access to affordable health care among groups of Harris County residents is having a massive financial impact on the county’s economy, according to a new report.

The report, conducted by researchers at Altarum, found that growing disparities in healthcare access and affordability in Harris County — the state’s largest county in population size and economic burden — cost the county nearly $1.7 billion in 2020. Researchers say these disparities caused thousands of people to die prematurely, resulting in more than 99,000 years of loss of life, according to the report.

“The purpose of this study was to understand and quantify the economic costs of having populations of Texans with poor health outcomes as compared to Texans who are the healthiest among us,” said Ann Barnes, president and CEO of the Episcopal Health Foundation (EHF) , which co-sponsored the report.

According to Barnes, low-income Texans, along with underserved communities of color, tend to have the poorest health outcomes in the state due to a lack of access to affordable health insurance coverage and a lack of community investment from local leaders.

“Families are paying out-of-pocket medical expenses, as well as losing employment and wages when they have to go seek health care,” Barnes said.

Last year, the EHF surveyed more than 1,000 Texans and found that 68% of participants said they’d skipped or postponed medical care over the last year because they couldn’t afford it — up from 59% who skipped or postponed care in 2022. According to Barnes, Texans are showing worse outcomes year over year.

However, while low-income families and people of color are feeling the brunt of the growing disparity, Barnes explained that the financial impacts can be felt at every level of Texas’ economy.

“Employers are also bearing some of these costs from lost productivity and higher health insurance premiums,” Barnes said. “And state and local governments are seeing an escalation in healthcare spending for health programs that are in place to serve low-income Texans.”

Overall, researchers found that these health disparities cost Texas nearly $8 billion in 2021. That cost is expected to increase by more than 80% in 2050, with an estimated $13.9 billion hit to the state’s future economy.

Barnes said increasing access to affordable health insurance, investing in under-resourced neighborhoods and pushing for policy changes that promote health equity would help reduce the growing gap between healthy Texans and those who have seemingly been left behind.

“If all Texans could be as healthy as the healthiest population among us, we would save the state $7 billion or more,” Barnes said.

Read the full report below: