Healthcare reform and the Medical Center

August 31, 2009 5:11:04 PM PDT
Health care reform could cost American taxpayers trillions of dollars. But what would an overhaul of the system do for our local economy? The largest medical center in the world pumps $14 billion a year in Houston's economy. Around 72,000 of our neighbors and friends work there every day. And even in the midst of an economy still needing a shot in the arm, it is growing.

"The building space in Texas Medical Center, that square footage exceeds downtown Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, that's today," said Jeff Moseley with the Greater Houston Partnership.

As it is now, five million people visit the Medical Center every year for help. It is as much as any single location in the country where healthcare reform will be most apparent.

So Houston is at the center of this national debate. And regardless of the kinds of reforms we end up with, the economy here will be impacted for years to come.

"This dialogue does have a direct tie to our economy," said Moseley.

Moseley is a cheerleader of sorts for Houston business and part of a group currently working on a report about the possible local effects of healthcare reform. He'll be traveling to Washington D.C. to talk with decision-makers about it.

"We want to make sure that Houston is always recognized as a national and global leader for research, for development of technologies that are on the cutting edge," said Moseley.

"If there is reform, there will be an effect on Houston," said University of Houston Data Manager Ron Welch. "The net effect on jobs and on the Texas Medical Center is going to be positive, yes."

But if you talk to those in the medical profession, it's what kind of reform and how much it effects the cost of providing good care that will determine whether it helps or hurts.

"Any system should reform itself, ought to look at how to reduce paperwork, reduce administrative overhead and that brings cost down, which can be used to help pay for the uninsured," said Memorial Hermann CEO Dan Wolterman.

Wolterman says a lot depends on how the government chooses to pay for reforms. That will make the biggest economic difference for everyone.

"That cost curve of inflation of health care costs per year is such a steep incline that if we're not able to flatten that out, it's going to take more money out of every individual's pocketbook," said Wolterman.

Regardless of reform, though, Wolterman says people will still need care. Houston's population will still grow and the local economy of scale may very well trump any kind of reform in the long run.

There is no definitive health care reform bill just yet. While the House did agree on a plan before the summer break, the Senate has multiple ideas on its plate and nobody knows for certain what elements will end up in the final bill.

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