One of the biggest challenges Texas must address is our health care crisis and the plight of the uninsured in our state. At long last, we have a historic opportunity to make real progress, but politics and pennywise-but-pound-foolish thinking stands in the way of helping millions of Texans get access to the care they deserve.
The opportunity comes from the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” One of its key provisions is an incredible incentive for states to expand their Medicaid programs to enroll millions of uninsured Americans. Medicaid expansion will provide coverage for low-income adults who are at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($14,856 per individual or $30,657 for a family of four), are younger than 65 years old and do not otherwise qualify for Medicaid.
For an investment of $15 billion, we could draw down as much as $100 billion in federal funds and expand health care coverage to 1.5 million low-income Texans over 10 years. The feds will cover 100 percent of the costs for expansion for the first three years and then gradually reduce to 90 percent thereafter. Expansion will boost local tax revenue by $2.1 billion as a result of $23 billion in new federal health care spending over the next four.
This is a no-brainer. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, and 6.1 million Texans lack real access to health care. We have one of the chintziest Medicaid programs in the nation, with hundreds of thousands of truly needy Texans left without insurance. Last session legislators chose to cut $10 billion more from our health care budget, underfunded Medicaid by about $4 billion and made deeper cuts to already-minimal services.
Expanding Medicaid will cover approximately 1.5 million additional Texans, create jobs and reduce Texas hospitals bills for uncompensated care. Currently, hospitals absorb more than $5 billion per year in uncompensated care provided to uninsured Texans who show up in our doctors’ offices and emergency rooms. And, if we do not expand, Texans will pay for other states to expand their Medicaid programs.
The Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and virtually every single health care organization in the state have called on Texas to expand its Medicaid program.
And according to a January poll by the American Cancer Society Action Network, 58 percent of Texans support extending Medicaid services. More and more states – even those run by conservative Republican governors – are putting politics aside and doing what is right for its citizens. In the last few weeks, Florida, Arizona, Ohio and Michigan have joined Arkansas, New Mexico and the list of states accepting federal aid for expansion, and Virginia is moving in that direction.
Texas has long had the highest uninsured rate in the nation, and our Medicaid program spends less than the national average per enrollee and also reimburses doctors, hospitals and other providers less than the national average.
We are extremely disappointed that Gov. Rick Perry said he plans to do nothing to implement key provisions of the Affordable Care Act that would provide access to health insurance for millions of hard-working Texans.
We believe his plan is short-sighted and not the final word.
Critics of this health care expansion constantly say “Texas knows how to take care of Texans better than Washington.”
Well, if that were true, we wouldn’t have the worst uninsured crisis in the country. Instead of just saying “no” to an incredible deal that will help millions of Texans, let’s see a plan that actually expands access to insurance. No more politics – let’s see a plan.
Time and again we hear the solution to our health care crisis will not come from Washington but from Texas.
Well, we’re waiting, so what’s the hold up? Those in charge have had carte blanche for over a decade to come up with a solution to this problem, and they haven’t even made a dent. The problem has only gotten worse. Simply saying “no” to Obamacare while offering nothing as an alternative makes for a great bumper sticker but does nothing to help millions of Texans who lack access to health care
To ensure something is done, we support SJR 8, a constitutional amendment to give the voters of Texas the right to decide whether Texas expands our Medicaid program. We will continue to work with our colleagues in the Legislature to try to move the debate forward and expand access to quality, affordable health care because the problem is too great for us to sit on our hands.
Ellis, a Democrat, represents District 13 in the Texas Senate.Coleman, a Democrat, represents District 147 in the Texas House.