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New study shows health disparities cost Texas billions of dollars

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Freda Ross

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(Texas News Service) Health disparities in Texas are not only making some people sick, but affecting the state's economy.

A new study shows Texas is losing $7 billion a year because it does not adequately address quality-of-life issues and the health care needs of its lower-income residents.

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The research was sponsored by the Episcopal Health Foundation, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, and St. David's Foundation.

Brian Sasser, chief communications officer for the Episcopal Health Foundation, said health care includes more than doctors' visits and medication.

"Everything from increasing access to affordable health insurance to investing in under-resourced neighborhoods to give them more options, whether that's exercise options or food options," Sasser outlined. "Look at policy changes that expand health insurance coverage for new moms."

The report breaks down the economic costs of preventable health differences for every Texas county. It found Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties are losing the most money annually because of health disparities.

The amount of the economic impact depends on the racial and ethnic makeup of the county and the size of its working-age population. Sasser added the report shows Black and Hispanic children are more likely to grow up in neighborhoods with high poverty levels, and higher rates of diabetes and obesity.

"What can we do to work to make sure that the rate of diabetes isn't dramatically different between white households and Black households?" Sasser asked. "That we can make sure the food insecurity isn't dramatically different between someone who makes over $100,000 and someone who makes less than $30,000?"

The Texas Legislature has passed laws to address some of the disparities, including House Bill 12. It extends Medicaid health coverage for 12 months for new mothers, and pays for maternal health services for community health workers and doulas.