Border Health Bordering on Disaster

The U.S.-Mexico border region is an area of tremendous human interaction where two countries and two cultures meet and flow across a porous international boundary. The border stretches approximately 2,000 miles from the southern tip of Texas to California, and comprises six Mexican states as well as California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. The U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission reports that approximately 13 million people live along the border; by 2025, the population is expected to double. The region has experienced recent annual growth rates of 2 to 5 percent.

Click to See Full-Size Image The border is a dynamic region whose population exhibits alarming adverse health and social conditions. (See  Figure 4 .) The border is medically underserved, its residents oftentimes uninsured. If it were to be made the 51st state, the U.S.-Mexico border region would rank:

  • Last in per-capita income,
  • Last in access to health care,
  • Second in death rates due to hepatitis,
  • Third in deaths related to diabetes,
  • First in the number of schoolchildren living in poverty, and
  • First in the number of children who are uninsured. [44]

The federal government classifies every county along the border (wholly or in part) as medically underserved. The number of primary care physicians there falls far short of meeting the needs of border patients. In the cities, the number of primary care physicians per 100,000 patients is about 12 percent lower along the border than in the rest of the state. In nonmetropolitan areas, the border is nearly 18 percent lower. And Texas as a whole trails the national average by more than 18 percent. [45]

Physicians practicing along the U.S.-Mexico border are besieged by a "medical practice perfect storm." Their practices depend disproportionately on government payers, with few privately insured patients to offset narrow margins. Their patients typically exhibit more severe and complex medical needs.

The general health of the border closely resembles that of an underdeveloped country in that the region is plagued with diseases affecting third-world nations. These are diseases that virtually have been eradicated in Europe and the vast majority of the United States.

The Texas-Mexico border is the gateway to our state. Not only does the border serve as a portal for the state's continued economic development and international commerce, it also provides an opening for the spread of deadly, contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, and hantavirus. Investment in the border health care delivery system is an investment that benefits all Texans.

[44] Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Bordering the Future; 1998 (Updated 2001).
[45] Texas Department of State Health Services. Supply Trends Among Licensed Health Professions, Texas, 1980-2004. Second Edition; March 2005.