Issues: Health Issues

Senator Ellis responds to Supreme Court striking down HB 2

(Houston, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down HB 2, which enacted unconstitutional limits on Texas women’s access to safe abortion access:

“Today marks a win for Texans, but the fight does not end today,” said Senator Ellis. “Legislative opponents of reproductive freedom want to make it virtually impossible for Texas women to seek safe, legal health care without having to face the political consequences of trying to ban all abortions. HB 2 was a cynical, destructive but – gladly – uneffective strategy.”

Ellis continued: “With the Court striking down HB 2, this represents first step in dismantling medically unnecessary laws aimed at making it harder for people to exercise their rights. All women deserve the respect and dignity to make their own health care decisions without bringing Big Government into what should be a very personal and private matter between a woman, her doctor, and her faith.”

“Finally, I want to give immense credit to Senator Wendy Davis, whose 11-hour filibuster against a version of HB 2 brought national attention to Texas’ attempts to pass unconstitutional limitations on a woman’s right and ability to make decisions about their health, family, and future. I still have your back, Wendy!”

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Happy Thanksgiving

Dear Friend,

Today is about more than the traditional feast – it’s about giving thanks. As I count my blessings today, the honor of serving as the State Senator from District 13 is close to the top. I want to thank my constituents, family, colleagues, and staff for making my time in public service meaningful in so many ways.

I pledge to continue fighting for the families of District 13 to make Texas a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Texans deserve a state that gives its residents a fair shot at a good-paying job to support their family, offers all children access to quality educational opportunities, and provides every family access to affordable and quality health care.

I wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving.

Sincerely,

Rodney Ellis


Time for schools to end suspension-first mindset

This ran as an op-ed in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle. Click here to view it on the Chronicle’s website.

Before they know the ABCs or how to tie their own shoes, thousands of four-year-olds in Texas are suspended from school each year, forced out of the classroom and denied the opportunity to learn.

A report issued this month by the nonprofit Texas Appleseed brought the issue into focus: more than 88,000 out-of-school suspensions were issued to pre-kindergarten and elementary school students in Texas in the 2013-14 school year alone.

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Recently, the Houston ISD Board of Education voted on a proposed rule change that would have ended suspensions for children in second grade and younger, except as required by law, and limited removals for third through fifth graders. Teachers would still have the ability under state law to remove a student from the classroom for repeated or seriously disruptive behaviors. HISD’s proposal also provided funds and training for educators in proven, alternative discipline methods that improve classroom safety and educational opportunities for all students.

A vote in favor of the proposal would have solidified HISD’s position as a leader in positive, forward-thinking education and school safety policies.

Unfortunately, the Board rejected the full proposal and instead supported a weakened version that effectively maintains the status quo for how our schools approach suspending our youngest children.

Unwarranted suspensions and other removals from school hurt students. When children, particularly young children, are arbitrarily suspended from school, they miss important learning and socializing time with their teachers and peers, they learn that the way to handle conflict is to push it away and ignore it, and they begin to believe they are bad children who do not deserve help. They realize that whenever they want a day off of school, they simply act out until they get sent home. The consequence can therefore reinforce the bad behavior the school is actually trying to prevent.

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Suspensions also don’t improve classroom outcomes for the rest of the students. An American Psychological Association task force points out that research shows a “negative relationship between the use of school suspension … and school-wide academic achievement, even when controlling for demographics such as socioeconomic status.”

Out-of-school suspensions often have the greatest impact on Texas’ working families. When a young child is sent home, someone must be there to watch him or her. Parents are forced to take time off of work and put their jobs in jeopardy. Stories of family members losing their jobs because a young student is suspended are regrettably not that rare.

If studies indicated that suspending our youngest students resulted in improved outcomes, it would make sense to continue with the status quo. But research shows the opposite, as classroom removals for young children can lead to even more significant problems down the road. Studies show that early removals increase the likelihood of suspensions in higher grades, which then increase the odds of being held back a grade, dropping out of school altogether, and entering the juvenile justice system.

What’s more, Texas Appleseed’s research shows classroom removals are issued disproportionately to certain groups of students. Black children, boys, and students who receive special education services are punished at disproportionately higher rates compared to their peers, but those rates are most alarming for black students. Black children make up 26 percent of students in HISD but represent 67 percent of pre-k out-of-school suspensions. Seventy percent of the pre-k through second graders suspended in HISD are black boys.

Fortunately, there are proven, evidence-based alternatives to a system over reliant on out-of-school suspensions. HISD’s proposal includes a robust, tiered system of behavioral interventions that can be used as alternatives to classroom removals. A staff of twenty-five trainers and sixty school psychologists would be trained in research-based methodologies, which they would then pass along to teachers, staff, and administrators at all HISD elementary schools. Behavioral interventionists would be available to provide further assistance and referrals to external agencies to any campuses that request them.

Sometimes opportunities to make sweeping change can seem rare. But this instance provides our community a unique chance to adapt our schools’ discipline policies in a way that will help the youngest students stay in the classroom. I remain hopeful that at the upcoming December meeting the Houston ISD Board of Education will support a ban on out-of-school suspensions for the district’s youngest children.


Now is the time to plan for climate change

The science is clear: the world is getting hotter. Scientists announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record, and 2001-10 was the hottest decade on record. There is convincing evidence that the warming of the Earth over the last half-century has been exacerbated by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use. And even if there’s disagreement about what’s causing the increased heat, you must have spent too much time in the sun to not think it’s getting hotter. So Texas has to plan for this hotter future.

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For the past four sessions, I’ve filed legislation to require 12 state agencies to produce climate adaptation plans every four years assessing each agency’s role with respect to climate change. Each climate adaptation plan must include: an assessment of vulnerability; how existing programs will be impacted; specific mitigation steps; budget impacts of mitigation; potential funding sources for mitigation steps; a statewide strategy to monitor the continuing effects of climate change; and a written statement by the Texas state climatologist regarding the adequacy of the scientific basis of the plan.

The bills haven’t passed, but I pledge to continue the fight. Plain and simple, it’s a bad business practice to not manage risk and uncertainty. With millions of lives and billions of dollars relying on sound state policies, the lack of risk mitigation around climate change exacerbates future economic uncertainty and sets the state up for potentially destructive surprises.

Organizations of all kinds – whether in the public, private, or non-profit sectors – have formalized planning processes to mitigate climate change impacts because planning is a prudent business practice. Adaptation plans would give Texas state agencies a roadmap to contend with unknown future climate conditions and help minimize their impact.

Click here to read a recent Houston Chronicle article on my efforts at the Capitol.


Do you have health insurance?

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act – or “Obamacare” – millions of uninsured Americans now have access to new health insurance options through a Health Insurance Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov. This is great news for Texas, as our state has the highest uninsured rate in the nation with nearly one in five lacking coverage – around 5 million people. In Harris County, almost 1 in 3 people are without health insurance coverage.

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Beyond the benefit for my constituents and community, I’m personally grateful for Obamacare, as it has allowed my oldest daughter, Nicole, to get health insurance while she attends school in New York. She’s more than 26 years old and is no longer able to be covered under my health care plan.

If you don’t have health insurance, you now have an opportunity to enroll in coverage, as the marketplace opened again on November 1, 2015. We will all get sick at some point in time, and access to health insurance is a critical part of ensuring that individuals and families are healthy and successful. Plus, if you are eligible and don’t enroll in coverage by January 31st, you might have to pay a fine at tax time of $695 dollars per person or 2.5% of your income, whichever is more.

Many people are able to get a plan that works for them and is not too expensive because financial help is available for individuals who make between $11,670-$46,680 and between $23,850-$95,400 for a family of four.

According to estimates for Houston, a 27 year old with an income of $25,000 might be able to purchase coverage with assistance for as a low as $81 per month. A family of four with an income of $50,000 may be able to get coverage for $52 per month after tax credits.

v>These plans purchased on the exchange will have new consumer protections and cover all ten essential benefits such as emergency services, prescriptions drugs, and preventive care – ensuring consumers get comprehensive coverage instead of a bare bones policy.

Information about these new health insurance plans, where to get in-person assistance, and how to apply for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program can be found at www.healthcare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596. Remember, the deadline for enrolling is January 31, 2016.

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Sen. Ellis announces billboards to increase health insurance enrollment

(Houston, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) announced the unveiling of billboards across the community aimed at increasing the number of insured Houstonians.

Thanks to a partnership with Clear Channel Outdoor, Senator Ellis will post a dozen billboards in the greater Houston area to encourage citizens to enroll in affordable health insurance options provided by the health insurance marketplace and the Affordable Care Act. Advertising space is being donated by Clear Channel Outdoor to the Houston Area Urban League for the campaign. Thousands of uninsured Houstonians will view these messages over the coming four weeks, creating 8.9 million market impressions over the course of the display.

Houstonians will have an opportunity to enroll in health care coverage when the health insurance marketplace opens on November 1, with enrollment running through January 31.

“All Texans deserve access to quality, affordable health care,” said Senator Ellis. “We will all get sick at some point in time, and access to health insurance is a critical part of ensuring that individuals and families are healthy and successful. This is why I am co-sponsoring this public outreach campaign to make sure that all eligible Houstonians receive the help and information they need to apply for and select a health plan that will work best for them and their families.”

The billboard images are available for download by clicking here and here.

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Texans stands to benefit greatly from the Affordable Care Act, as one in five – more than five million people – lack health insurance coverage. In Texas, over 940,000 people selected a plan during the previous open enrollment period.

Texans currently have another opportunity to enroll in coverage as the Health Insurance Marketplace will remain open until January 31, 2016. If you are eligible and don’t get covered, you might have to pay a fine of $695 or 2.5 percent of your income (whichever is greater).

Financial help is available for individuals and families between 100-400 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,670 to $46,680 for individuals or $23,850 to $95,400 for a family of four). Eighty-four percent of people in our state who received coverage through the exchange received help paying for their insurance. In addition, health insurance on the exchange is affordable, as the average monthly cost for those who enrolled in coverage with financial assistance in Texas is $72.

Plans purchased on the exchange will also have new consumer protections and cover all ten essential benefits such as emergency services, prescriptions drugs, and preventive care. Many of these preventive services are covered with no additional costs to consumers.

Information about where to get free local in-person assistance, new health insurance plans, and how to apply for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program can be found at links on www.enrollgulfcoast.com or by calling 832-393-5423.

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Sen. Ellis reacts to U.S. Supreme Court decision on Affordable Care Act

(Austin, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement in response to this morning’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding the Affordable Care Act:

“I am thankful that the Supreme Court did the right thing by protecting the millions of Americans who have secured more affordable health insurance under the Affordable Care Act,” said Senator Ellis. “This ruling is a win for Texas, as our state has the most to lose with the highest number of uninsured and the most people – over three million – eligible for marketplace coverage.”

Ellis continued: “People may disagree about the law, but one fact is indisputable – many people have and will benefit from the Affordable Care Act. Today, the uninsured rate for the nation has dropped by one-fifth. Millions of women get preventive services like mammograms and pap smears without a co-pay. Health plans must now spend 80 to 85 percent of every premium dollar on health care, insurers can no longer deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and young adults can be covered under their parent’s plan until age 26.”

“It is long past time to remove narrow politics from the health care debate and focus on truly improving health of women, children, and all Americans. We can and must do better to ensure that all Americans have access to health care.”

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Sen. Ellis offers amendment to expand Medicaid

(Austin, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) offered a floor amendment to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but the amendment was voted down on party lines.

“Everyone has the right to affordable health care,” said Senator Ellis. “The contents of one’s wallet should not determine the quality of one’s care. When Texas leads the nation in the percent of our population that’s uninsured, it’s very disappointing that my colleagues have once again passed on an opportunity to provide a million Texans access to affordable health care.”

“Expanding Medicaid simply secures aid for what local taxpayers pay for already: the costs of uninsured Texans who show up in our doctor’s offices and emergency rooms. Accepting the $100 billion in federal funding to address the gap of affordable healthcare options to our constituents is just common sense. It will reduce local property taxes, create jobs, and provide affordable and quality health care to a million Texans.”

According to an economic analysis by the Perryman Group, Texas would see a return of $1.29 for every $1 spent on Medicaid expansion, and the burden on local governments would be reduced by $1.21 for every dollar the state spent on expanding the program. Perryman further estimates that Medicaid expansion would generate over 300,000 Texas jobs per year on average over 10 years, even netting out the impact diverting the state’s required matching contribution.

Billy Hamilton Consulting projects economic activity from Medicaid expansion would generate an estimated 231,000 jobs by 2016, and several times that number in later years.

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Standing up for quality, affordable health care

Dear Friend,

For years, our health care system was unfair. Insurance companies charged too much for coverage that was full of holes. Our country had enough, and we demanded a better system. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) important first steps, hundreds of thousands of Texans now have the security of quality, affordable health care. For millions of other Texans that already had coverage, the law has improved it, requiring insurance companies to cover essential health benefits like prescription drugs and mental health services and preventing those companies from kicking you off coverage when you get seriously ill.

Unfortunately, our state has refused to accept billions in federal funding to expand access to quality, affordable health care to all Texans, leaving about one million hardworking Texans in the coverage gap. Other states are getting billions while Texans continue to struggle. So there’s still work to do.

This Ellis Email Express will share information on new health insurance options available to you and your family, update you on what still needs to be done to provide all Texans coverage, and share some of my health legislative priorities for this session.

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New Health Insurance Options

Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation with nearly one in four lacking coverage, or more than 5 million people. In Houston, nearly one in three people are without health insurance, and lack of coverage makes it hard for Texas families to get the health care they need.

In fact, study after study has shown that one of the best ways to protect and improve the health of families is by expanding access to quality health insurance. Children do better in school and miss fewer days when they have health insurance. Parents and guardians can also provide a more consistent environment for their children to grow up in when the whole family is healthy.

In Texas, over 730,000 people selected a plan during the first ACA open enrollment period. Texans currently have another opportunity to enroll in coverage as the Health Insurance Marketplace will remain open until February 15, 2015. If you are eligible and don’t get covered, you might have to pay a fine of $325 per adult and $162.50 per child or 2 percent of your income (whichever is greater).

Financial help is available for individuals and families between 100-400 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,670 to $46,680 for individuals or $23,850 to $95,400 for a family of four). Eighty-four percent of people in our state who previously received coverage through the exchange received help paying for their insurance. In addition, health insurance on the exchange is affordable, as the average monthly cost for those who enrolled in coverage in Texas is $72.

Plans purchased on the exchange will also have new consumer protections and cover all ten essential benefits such as emergency services, prescriptions drugs, and preventive care. Many of these preventive services are covered with no additional costs to consumers.

Information about where to get free local in-person assistance, new health insurance plans, and how to apply for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program can be found at links on www.enrollgulfcoast.com or by calling 832-393-5423.

Closing the Coverage Gap

While this is exciting news, we still have more work to do to ensure that all Texans have access to quality, affordable health care. Expanding access to health insurance is such an important issue that I worked tirelessly to amend Medicaid expansion language onto every bill possible this past session.


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Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to take action or provide an alternative plan to cover our most vulnerable populations, leaving about a million Texans with incomes below the federal poverty level without affordable health insurance options. These are low-wage working adults who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to get a subsidy on the exchange. An individual making less than $11,670 or a family of four making less than $23,850 will fall into this coverage gap.

Many Texas workers in retail, food service, health care, and construction fall into this gap. In addition, Texas also has the highest number of uninsured veterans and veterans’ spouses in the country with around 200,000 uninsured.

Providing these uninsured Texans with health coverage makes good sense for the health of our communities and the state, and it also makes good business sense. For an investment of $15 billion, Texas could draw down as much as $100 billion in federal funds over 10 years.  In addition, this expansion is estimated to generate more than 300,000 Texas jobs annually over 10 years. According to a well-respected economist, Texas would see a return of $1.29 for every $1 spent on Medicaid expansion, which means it more than pays for itself.

Republican governors and state legislatures across the country are making this work for their states. If Arkansas and Arizona can do it, Texas can, too.

The expansion of Medicaid costs less in four years than what Texas hospitals spend on the uninsured population in one year.  Currently, hospitals absorb more than $5 billion per year in uncompensated care, a loss that is passed on to you in the form of higher health care costs and direct taxes in areas that have hospital districts.

The needs of these uninsured individuals will not disappear if Texas fails to close this coverage gap, but the state will continue to lose out on a nine-to-one match and pass the cost down to local hospitals and taxpayers.

I hope I can count on your assistance to inform your family and friends about these new health insurance options and the importance of expanding coverage in our state.

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Fighting to improve Texan’s health care

Texas’ legislative session is now well underway, and I have already filed a number of bills to help improve Texan’s access to quality, affordable health care.

Closing the coverage gap is an incredibly important issue, so I’ve filed SB 89, which would extend Medicaid coverage to all those eligible under the ACA. As I discussed above, this bill would provide coverage options to an estimated one million adult Texans.

In addition, I have also filed SB 90 to require insurance companies to get approval from the Texas Department of Insurance before they are allowed to increase their rates. Having to justify rate increases will help ensure that rates are fair for consumers and that your money is truly being spent on care and not administrative costs or bonuses.

Lastly, I’ve filed SB 194 to require health care providers that take samples of a person’s blood for routine medical purposes to submit the blood for an HIV diagnostic test unless the person opts out. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the most effective measures for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS is routine testing to determine whether individuals carry the HIV virus. Nationally, more than 20 percent of people living with HIV are unaware of it. This epidemic infects around 4,300 Texans each year, but the CDC estimates the number of new cases of HIV could be decreased by up to 30 percent with routine screening in all health settings. It is time we take steps to offer all individuals, regardless of known risk, an opportunity to know their status and stay protected.

I hope you have found this information helpful. Please contact my office should you have any questions or need additional information.

Sincerely,
Rodney Ellis

Let’s expand the sales tax holiday

I authored the bill that created Texas’ sales tax holiday in 1999. Since then, Texans have saved over $862 million on essential back-to-school items like clothing, shoes, backpacks, and school supplies. But it’s time to bring the sales tax holiday into the 21st century.

Earlier this week, I held a press conference with Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) to discuss companion bills we filed to do to just that: SB 426 and HB 1087. You can watch the press conference by clicking here.

Sales Tax Exemption Press Conf
Our bipartisan bills would increase the purchase limit amount for clothing, shoes, backpacks, and school supplies from $100 to $200 – and it would include computers and tablets in the sales tax holiday for the very first time. Texas needs to increase the sales tax holiday amount and add the electronic devices that our students regularly use to succeed in the classroom.

As long as tax cuts remain on the agenda this session, I intend to fight for tax cuts that will go straight to families’ pockets. After all, the sales tax holiday means real tax relief for those who need it most.


Scenes from session

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 With civil rights leader Julian Bond and a great group of interns at the LBJ School of Public Affairs

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 I joined other Houston-area leaders to help honor Marvin Rich’s amazing legacy of service with the Anti-Defamation League

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 With Stafford MSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Bostic

 

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Senator Ellis announces billboards to increase health insurance enrollment

(Houston, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) announced the unveiling of billboards across the community aimed at increasing the number of insured Houstonians.

Thanks to a partnership with Clear Channel Outdoor, Senator Ellis will post a dozen billboards in the greater Houston area to encourage citizens to enroll in affordable health insurance options provided by the health insurance marketplace and the Affordable Care Act. Advertising space is being donated by Clear Channel Outdoor to the Houston Area Urban League for the campaign. Thousands of uninsured Houstonians will view these messages over the coming six weeks prior to the February 15 enrollment deadline, creating 10.2 million market impressions over the course of the display.

“Our state does better when all Texans have access to quality, affordable health care,” said Senator Ellis. “That is why I am co-sponsoring this public service outreach effort to ensure all eligible Houstonians receive the information and assistance they need to select a quality health plan that works for them and their families.”

“I’d like to join Senator Ellis in encouraging the community to enroll and get covered,” said Judson Robinson, President and CEO of The Houston Area Urban League. “Investing in your health care is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family. Become empowered and get covered.”

“The billboard campaign gives a boost to our collaborative’s efforts to educate the many uninsured people of our area about the benefits of enrolling in a low-cost ACA health plan,” said Stephen Williams, director, Houston Department of Health and Human Services. “Its timing is perfect as we need to convince the uninsured to take steps to enroll now to avoid missing the February 15 deadline.”

The billboard images are available for download by clicking here and here.

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Texans stands to benefit greatly from the Affordable Care Act, as one in five – more than five million people – lack health insurance coverage. In Texas, over 730,000 people selected a plan during the first open enrollment period.

Texans currently have another opportunity to enroll in coverage as the Health Insurance Marketplace will remain open until February 15, 2015. If you are eligible and don’t get covered, you might have to pay a fine of $325 or 2 percent of your income (whichever is greater).

Financial help is available for individuals and families between 100-400 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,670 to $46,680 for individuals or $23,850 to $95,400 for a family of four). Eighty-four percent of people in our state who previously received coverage through the exchange received help paying for their insurance. In addition, health insurance on the exchange is affordable, as the average monthly cost for those who enrolled in coverage in Texas is $72.

Plans purchased on the exchange will also have new consumer protections and cover all ten essential benefits such as emergency services, prescriptions drugs, and preventive care. Many of these preventive services are covered with no additional costs to consumers.

Information about where to get free local in-person assistance, new health insurance plans, and how to apply for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program can be found at links on www.enrollgulfcoast.com or by calling 832-393-5423.

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Statement from Sen. Ellis on 49th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid

(Austin, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement:

“Today marks the 49th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing into law the Social Security Act Amendments, which established Medicare and Medicaid,” said Senator Ellis.  “For decades, Medicare and Medicaid have been providing invaluable health care coverage, preventative services, and peace of mind to our most vulnerable populations including children, seniors, people with disabilities, and pregnant women.”

“Just like Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act or ‘Obamacare’ is a great step toward universal access to affordable health care, and it has helped millions of uninsured receive the care they need and deserve.  Texas stands to benefit greatly as nearly one in four lack health care coverage.  While over 700,000 Texans selected a plan through the Healthcare Marketplace, more work needs to be done to help insure the more than 5 million Texans that still lack quality, affordable health insurance.”

“On the day President Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law, he quoted President Harry Truman from a generation earlier: ‘Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and to enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. And the time has now arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and to help them get that protection.'”

“Texas has a historic opportunity to finally do something about its dismal numbers by closing the coverage gap, but, instead, our state’s leadership simply chooses to say ‘no.’ As a result, about a million low-income adults in Texas are left with no real option.”

“Expanding Medicaid simply secures federal aid for what cities and counties pay for already: the costs of uninsured Texans who show up in our doctor’s offices and emergency rooms.  Accepting the $100 billion in federal funding to address the gap in affordable healthcare options available to our constituents is just common sense.  I will continue to do my part to advocate for Medicaid expansion to ensure that we are creating a Texas where all families have the opportunity to be healthy and successful.”

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Ellis on TDI’s Proposed Navigator Rules

(Austin, TX) // Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today released the following statement and letter to the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) regarding TDI’s proposed new rule concerning the regulation of navigators for Health Benefit Exchanges:

“As written, TDI’s proposed navigator rules should not be implemented, as they will impose excessive fees and unnecessary training requirements. While I share TDI’s concern about protecting Texas consumers’ privacy and data, these rules would go well beyond the requirements for others doing similar work. If the impetus for these rules is truly about protecting consumers, then why doesn’t TDI seek to place the same restrictions and requirements on everyone with access to personal information needed for health insurance enrollment?”

“If these onerous restrictions and excessive training requirements are imposed on navigators, TDI should take steps to implement equivalent rules to ensure that consumers are protected regardless of who is providing them with enrollment assistance. Otherwise, these proposed rules appear to be about more than privacy.”

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Letter to TDI Commissioner Rathgeber:

January 6, 2014

Ms. Julia Rathgeber, Commissioner

Texas Department of Insurance

P.O. Box 149104
Austin, TX 78714

Re: Proposed new 28 TAC Chapter 19, Subchapter W, §§19.4001 – 19.4018, concerning Regulation of Navigators for Health Benefit Exchanges, in the December 6, 2013, issue of the Texas Register (38 TexReg 8769).

Dear Commissioner Rathgeber,

I understand that the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) is moving forward with proposed rules to implement additional restrictions and requirements for navigators.

While I share your concern for the need to protect Texas consumers’ privacy and data, these proposed rules go well beyond the requirements for those doing similar work and singles out navigators.  These proposed rules would impose excessive fees and unnecessary training requirements and put in place restrictions that will prevent navigators from completing their core responsibility of providing consumers with the information they need to make informed decisions about what health plans will be best for them.  These proposed rules go past consumer protection and will hinder Texans from receiving assistance and information about health care options available to them.

As you know, Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation and stands to benefit greatly from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  One of the key components of the law is the implementation of a health care marketplace, a resource for individuals to shop for and compare quality, affordable health insurance coverage.  For vulnerable and underserved populations, navigators are a critical resource for enrollment assistance.  They are trusted resources for information in their communities and are able to use these connections to inform consumers about health insurance and financial assistance options available through the marketplace.

Furthermore, navigators are only one entity assisting consumers with enrolling in plans; insurance agents and health insurance companies are also helping with enrollment and are exposed to the same private personal data as navigators.  They collect or have access to confidential information including birth dates, social security numbers, and financial information.  While navigators are helping consumers enroll with this information, insurance agents and health insurance companies maintain files with this private personal data.  However, insurance agents and health insurance companies were specifically excluded from the rule making authority in SB 1795, but the need for insurance agents and health insurance companies to be conscientious and accountable when accessing this confidential information still remains.

If the impetus for implementing these new rules is truly about protecting consumer privacy, then why doesn’t TDI seek to place the same restrictions and requirements on all entities that gain access to and maintain files with private personal information necessary for health insurance enrollment? Also, if ensuring all those that have access to such information is a legitimate concern, why have similar restrictions not been proposed in the past?

If these onerous proposed restrictions and training requirements are imposed on navigators, TDI should take steps to implement rules to ensure that personal data is not only protected and secure when in the hands of non-profit and community organizations, but also when in the hand of those who benefit financially from helping consumers like health insurance agents and companies.  TDI should also require that these entities receive the same training as navigators on privacy, ethics, and Texas Medicaid so that they can conscientiously assist Texas consumers with selecting a health plan that meets their needs.

Should equivalent requirements already be in place, please provide information regarding the statutory or rule requirements for health insurance agents and health insurance companies as they relate to registration requirements, background check and finger print requirements, and training requirements including the number of hours devoted to Texas Medicaid, privacy and ethics specifically.

Thank you in advance for considering my comments, and I look forward to your response in writing.  I hope we can continue to work together to ensure consumers are protected and that those who need it have access to affordable health care.

Sincerely,

Rodney Ellis

CC: Sara Waitt, General Counsel, Texas Department of Insurance

Jamie Walker, Associate Commissioner, Licensing Services Section, Texas Department of

Insurance

PDF: Ellis – TDI Navigator Rules Letter

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Ellis reacts to HB 2 ruling

(Austin, Texas) – Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today released the following statement regarding the U.S. District Court’s ruling that portions of House Bill 2 are unconstitutional and will not go into effect: Continue Reading »

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