As I See It: Zerwas Talks Budget and Healthcare
Citizens of north Fort Bend County are fortunate to have a State Representative who holds a distinct position in the legislature. Dr. John Zerwas is a Republican leader in the House of Representatives serving on the powerful Appropriations Committee. He chairs the Health and Human Services Subcommittee and the General Investigating and Ethics Committee, and serves on the House Health and Human Services Committee.
Zerwas, 59, was first elected in 2006 and has served four terms. He is a candidate for reelection in November and agreed to sit down with Katy Christian Magazine to discuss issues of real importance to citizens of District 28. Texas government operates under a two-year budget cycle. “State Agencies are already under a mandate to reduce costs and waste through a reduction of ten percent of operating budgets,” he says. The House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees have held several hearings during the last 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 $73 billion and account for about 23% of our state’s General Revenue spending,” he adds, noting the historical belief that our state’s health care expenditures should not exceed education spending.
Mental Health is one area 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,” says Zerwas. “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 to help eliminate waiting lists in local mental health authorities and train school-based professionals on prevention and early identification. In addition, the establishment of collaborative public/private partnerships will help create whole, wrap-around community endeavors targeting homelessness, behavioral health, and specific families at risk of entering the child protective services system including substance abuse slots and psychiatric bed slots for children.
Women’s Health is also a concern. Zerwas explains that there are six million women of childbearing age in Texas today. In 2012 only 71% of women aged 18-64 had health insurance coverage. “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,” he says. “Medical costs for a child’s first year are dramatically different if the child is pre-term.” While average medical costs for a full term child are under $500, the cost for pre-term babies after leaving the hospital could easily exceed $50,000.
For this reason, the legislature budgeted an additional $100 million for primary health care. Health and Human Services 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 – Zerwas is sought out by legislators when health care is debated. His grasp of issues, 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. Through his position on the Appropriations Committee he speaks with expertise on funding across the entire state government from Agriculture to Space Sciences.
Katy is fortunate to have a capable and hardworking Representative in Austin. Zerwas’ growing prominence will certainly influence state government and benefit his constituents. Visit his website at johnzerwas.com.
Gary Gillen owns and operates Gillen Pest Control and Gillen Political Strategies in Richmond. He is the only person in history to have served on both the Richmond City Commission and Rosenberg City Council. He was also the Chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County 2006-2007.