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Zerwas talks Budget and Healthcare

As I See It…

By Gary Gillen

Zerwas talks Budget and Healthcare

The citizens of north Fort Bend County are fortunate to have a State Representative who holds a very powerful spot in the State Legislature. Dr. John Zerwas has become a leader in the House of Representatives serving on the powerful Appropriations Committee, Chairing the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, Chairing the General Investigating and Ethics Committee and serving as a member of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Zerwas, 59,( R ) Richmond, was first elected to the House in 2006. He has served four terms and is a candidate for reelection in November. Dr. Zerwas agreed to sit down with Katy Christian Magazine to discuss issues of real importance to Katy and north Fort Bend County.

He explained that Texas government operates under a two year budget cycle. He said, “State Agencies are already under a mandate to reduce costs and waste through a reduction of ten percent of operating budgets.” The House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees have held several hearings during thelast several weeks in preparation for the next session.

The 2014-2015 budget is $200.4 billion with Health and Human Services at 36% ($73.8 billion) and Education at 37%. “Medicaid expenditures make up much of that $73billion and account for about 23% of our state’s General Revenue spending” said Zerwas. He explained that there has been an historical belief that our state’s health care expenditures should not exceed education spending.

According to Zerwas Mental Health is an area that is receiving a great deal of attention. “In the past, most mental health care took place in our county jails. Probably the worst place to treat mental illness” Dr. Zerwas noted. He continued, “This is a major cost driver in our budget. When treatment is not effective or accessible we see the effects outside of the Health and Human Services arena, in our public safety, criminal justice and court systems.” For this reason the 83rd Legislature expanded spending in the mental health area.

The added funding was for: elimination of waiting lists in local mental health authorities, training school-based professionals on prevention and early identification of mental health needs, collaborative, public/private partnerships to allow communities to create whole, wrap-around community endeavors targeting homelessness and behavioral health and targeting specific families at risk of entering the child protective services system including substance abuse slots and psychiatric bed slots for children.

Another area of increased concern for Zerwas is Women’s Health. He explained that there are six million women of childbearing age in Texas today. In 2012 only 71% of women 18-64 had health insurance coverage. Zerwas indicated that “more than 60% of Texas births are paid by Medicaid, and more than two thirds of our Medicaid costs for newborns are related to prematurity. Medical costs for a child’s first year are dramatically different if the child is pre-term.” He said that average medical costs for a full term child are under $500 while a pre-term baby, once he or she has left the hospital could easily exceed $50,000.

For this reason the Legislature budgeted an additional $100 million for primary health care and the health and human services enterprise agencies are working to coordinate the delivery of women’s health services in Texas.

Being a physician, one of three in the house at a time when the health and human service budget is fast growing, Dr. Zerwas is the man legislators seek out when health care is being debated. His grasp of the issues in health care, not just the medical area of which he is clearly an expert, but of the funding and delivery mechanisms of state and federal government is astounding. And with his position on the Appropriations Committee he can speak with great expertise on funding across the entire state government from Agriculture to Space Sciences.

Katy is fortunate to have a capable, hardworking and knowledgeable Representative in Austin. His growing prominence in the legislature will certainly influence the entire state government and benefit the citizens of District 28.

Gary Gillen is vice-president of Gillen Pest Control serving Fort Bend and surrounding counties.