Rio Grande Valley students are back in their classrooms, thanks partly to the efforts of benevolent outsiders — including enlisted military personnel — who helped get them there.

State law requires that students have certain vaccinations before they can attend public schools. But without health insurance, many families didn’t have the financial means to get children inoculated. That’s why efforts like Operation Lone Star, that was held this summer, are so vital for the region’s well being.

OLS recruits medical professionals and deploys members of the Texas State Guard to provide needed immunizations and health screenings, including eye exams and dental services, to under served areas. This year they served more than 10,000 children in the Valley and performed more than 40,000 services.

Demand was so high that some people were unfortunately turned away, officials said.

That shows the need for better healthcare services in the Valley, because so many families lack insurance coverage.

South Texas has the highest rates of uninsured residents in a state that ranks dead last in the country for insurance coverage, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last month. Hidalgo County has the highest uninsured rate among urban counties at 38.9 percent. In fact, the five counties with more than 25,000 residents with the highest percentages of uninsured are all in South Texas, Census data shows.

This has serious ramifications for our region. A lack of preventative care can lead to escalating health care needs, which end up taxing emergency rooms.

Adding to the dilemma are low doctor-to-patient ratios in the Valley — much lower than the national average. For doctors, working in this region has always meant the potential of treating clients who can’t pay for their services.

The establishment of the University of Texas medical school — as part of Project South Texas — is anticipated to help create a higher doctor-to-patient ratio. Yet that is still a ways off and funding for the school will require sacrifices from many, possibly taxpayers.

It’s something to think about as state officials refuse to participate in the federal Affordable Care Act, which starts to be phased in next month with the opening of certified “marketplaces” where citizens can buy insurance from. However Texas was one of several states that challenged the legality of Obamacare. After the Supreme Court validated the act, however, most states either adopted the federal insurance plan or developed their own alternatives. But Texas did neither. Our state also has refused an expansion of Medicaid, which is paid for by our federal taxes but which Texans will reap no benefits.

When electing our officials, voters often look for leaders with high principles. However, those principles must be tempered with pragmatism. Once federal health care became inevitable — and Texans were going to have to pay for it anyway — state officials should have endeavored to create the best, most efficient program possible.

Instead, we will continue to rely on special programs, like Operation Lone Star, and the benevolence of some to care for our many. And we will eagerly watch as each brick is erected on the new medical school in anticipation of it some day soon producing a new crop of doctors for our region who will hopefully want to stay and practice here.

It’s unfortunate that the quality of life of so many Valley residents has fallen victim to what amounts to a hissy-fit by our so-called state leaders.