Issues: Health Issues

Ready to fight

Dear Friend,

Today is the first day of the 84th Legislative Session. In addition to nine new members of the Senate, Texas also has a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and many other statewide elected positions.

Over the next 140 days, I will be fighting in Austin for my constituents in Senate District 13, pushing Texas to address the significant number of challenges it continues to face. Before the committee hearings and floor votes begin, I want to share with you the priorities that I will be pursuing.

Striving for fairness and equality in our criminal justice system

Though Texas has taken important steps in recent years, we have long way to go on the path to providing all Texans the reliable and effective justice they deserve, and ensuring that all Texans, regardless of race or income, receive fair and equal justice under the law.

Recent media coverage has brought deserving and needed attention to the unfortunate disparity between the promise of equal justice and the reality of unequal treatment under the law. I will continue to fight, as my predecessor Barbara Jordan famously stated, to make “America as good as its promise” and push Texas toward a justice system that is more equitable, reliable, and effective.

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Texans deserve an accurate and reliable justice system – one with proper checks and balances and transparency to make sure all relevant facts come to light, evidence based on real science and best practices, and adequate procedural safeguards to ensure dependable verdicts.

Unfortunately, if we measure reliability and accuracy by verified mistakes, Texas leads the nation in the shameful category of proven wrongful convictions. There are essential advances Texas needs to make to ensure we have evidence and results we can trust in our justice system. These include specific changes like SB 181, which would require the recording of interrogations to improve the reliability of confessions, and SB 81, which would create an innocence commission to consistently evaluate wrongful convictions and make recommendations to improve the integrity of justice.

Texans deserve an effective justice system. Our criminal justice policies should effectively improve public safety and efficiently utilize taxpayer dollars.  That seems basic enough. But Texas has historically been criticized for its wasteful, ineffective, and overly “tough” approach to criminal justice that has too often relied on incarceration first and asking questions later, resulting in disparate treatment of the poor and communities of color.

We cannot continue to over-rely on incarceration as the primary means of addressing low-level drug use. I filed SB 82 to be smarter on crime by diverting more non-violent drug possession offenders into alternatives to incarceration that have proven to be successful at reducing crime and drug use. Advancing this smart on crime approach will put Texas on the path to a more effective and efficient approach to justice.

Perhaps most importantly, Texans deserve fair and equitable justice system.  The promise that every person, rich or poor, stands equal before the law is at the root of the American ideals of liberty and justice. Ensuring that promise is a reality requires that all people have their rights equally protected by quality legal representation, have juries of their peers, and are treated equally and fairly by law enforcement when they are suspected and accused of a crime.

Unfortunately, in everyday Texas, quality of justice is too often contingent on your wealth and the attorney you can afford. I filed SB 260 to apply mandatory caseload limits for attorneys taking appointed cases representing indigent defendants. Too many lawyers are taking excessive numbers of cases – often hundreds upon hundreds a year – which inevitably means a lower quality of defense being provided by those lawyers.

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Equal justice further requires we all be judged by a jury of our peers, and I will join my colleagues in fighting for reforms to ensure our juries reflect our community’s makeup and values. And finally, I will file legislation to study disparate impacts in our justice system, propose solutions to remedy them, and ensure more transparency and accountability in law enforcement practices.

Invest in Texas’ future

I will fight to ensure we work toward a state budget that is not only fair, responsible, and protects Texas’ most vulnerable populations, but also invests in our future and begins to address the needs of our growing and changing state. We’ve got to find real solutions to the real problems facing our state’s physical and human infrastructure. This includes adequately funding our unconstitutional public school finance system and opposing risky public education voucher schemes that will gut our already underfunded neighborhood schools. It means ending smoke-and-mirrors and diversions in our budget that reduce our state’s much-needed transportation funding. It also means valuing hardworking Texas families over ineffective tax giveaways and loopholes.

High quality educational opportunities for all Texas students

Supporting our neighborhood schools

For too long, Texas has operated as a government by lawsuit: the biggest, most difficult issues facing our state are only addressed when mandated by a court. Now that our school finance system has once again been ruled unconstitutional, you may hear some elected officials claim that the legislature cannot act until after the case has been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court and the justices have had an opportunity to rule.

I firmly disagree. The legislature should treat the underfunding of our children’s schools like what it is: an emergency that must be solved immediately. Growing by 80,000 students each year, Texas’ public school enrollment is more than 5.1 million – the second highest in the nation. It’s time to provide those students adequately-funded neighborhood schools so that all children have access to quality educational opportunities.

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High quality, accessible pre-k

Attending high-quality pre-kindergarten has a lasting impact on a child’s success both in school and life. Early childhood education creates learning foundations and allows students from all backgrounds begin to establish the skills that will last the rest of their lives. Children who attend high-quality programs are less likely to be held back a grade, less likely to need special education, and more likely to graduate from high school. I filed SB 72and 73 to open up pre-k to all Texas four-year-olds and place class size limits to ensure too many students aren’t packed into a classroom.

Make higher education affordable again

In 2003, the Texas legislature passed tuition deregulation, which gave authority to set tuition rates to unelected boards of regents at our state’s public universities. Texas stopped investing in our children’s future and instead pushed the cost onto families. Now thanks to tuition deregulation, the cost of attending a public university in Texas has more than doubled in just ten years.

This is pricing hard-working families out of higher education, forcing students to incur enormous debt loads and push back their graduation and eventual entrance into the fulltime workforce. I filed SB 255 to cap tuition and force the legislature to adequately fund higher education. The people of Texas send senators and representatives to Austin to make tough decisions and invest in what is important to our state’s future. Higher education – affordable higher education – is no doubt one of those items.

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More paths to four year degrees

In an effort to address both the high cost of getting a college degree and the serious workforce needs across our state, I filed SB 271 to allow community colleges to provide certain four-year degrees in areas of the state where needs are the greatest. This proposal would provide another avenue for working adults and students who want a more affordable higher education experience to complete a four-year degree. Community colleges offer lower costs relative to universities, and they often have more flexibility to offer courses in the evening and on weekends. Community college graduates are also more likely to remain and work in their community, ensuring that the same public that invests in their education also reaps the benefits.

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Give families access to affordable and quality health care options

Texas has a historic opportunity to finally do something about its dismal health insurance numbers by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, up to this point, our state’s leadership has simply chosen to say “no.” As a result, about a million poor adults in Texas are left with no real health coverage option.

Closing the coverage gap simply secures federal aid for what your tax dollars pay for already: the costs of uninsured Texans who show up in our doctors’ offices and emergency rooms. Accepting the $100 billion in federal funding to address the gap of affordable health care options is just common sense, which is why I filed SB 89.  Last session, according to the non-partisan Legislative Budget Board, an investment of $50 million would have drawn down $4 billion to insure one million additional Texans through 2016. I will continue to do my part to advocate for closing the coverage gap to ensure that we are creating a Texas where all families have the opportunity to be healthy and successful.

Promoting a fair economy that works for all Texans

Review Texas’ tax loopholes

Tax giveaways and loopholes to special interests have perverted our tax system and made it blatantly unfair for the average Texas family. We need accountability measures, checks, and balances on corporate welfare and tax giveaways. After all, the legislature makes extensive efforts to determine the efficacy of every state dollar spent in our education, health and human services, and criminal justice systems. Yet we still have an astounding lack of knowledge when it comes to tax loopholes – including basic information like how many exist and their cost to the state.

Out of fairness to taxpayers, the Texas Tax Code should undergo a review of all its exemptions, discounts, and special treatments to answer one simple question: are they working? I filed SB 80 so that Texas can step forward, shine a bright light on the Tax Code, and make real reforms to ensure taxpayer funds are protected and wisely invested.

Raising the minimum wage

Texas is a land of opportunity, where we believe that hard work is rewarded with honest pay. If you work hard at a full-time job, you should earn more than poverty level wages.But for too long, Texas families employed full-time at minimum wage have not been able to make ends meet. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 under my SB 67 will provide Texans with income to spend on the basics they need. This, in turn, generates business for our economy and eases the burden on taxpayer-funded services. It’s a win-win.

Raising the minimum wage helps build an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthiest among us. After all, Texas has more minimum wage workers than any state in the country. We can help 2.8 million hardworking Texans – including 1.5 million women, 1.5 million parents, and 377,000 people over the age of 55 – by increasing the minimum wage to $10.10.

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Strong regulations for payday lending

Payday loans and auto title loans are low-dollar, high-interest loans that target low-income Texans. These predatory loans are usually a last resort for Texans struggling to provide for their families, and they carry annual percentage rates upwards of 500 percent through excess fees and interest alone. Payday and auto title lenders often downplay the risks of their loans, profit from trapping borrowers in debt, and push Texas families deeper into financial hardship. Strong bills like my SB 91 and 92 regulating payday and auto title lenders are essential to improve the economic conditions of Texas citizens, including working families, students, the elderly, and veterans.

Equal pay for equal work

Women make up nearly half the workforce in the United States, and they are the equal or main breadwinner for four out of ten families. But in 2012, Texas women only earned 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. This is legally and morally unacceptable. I’ve filed SB 65, which will allow equal pay cases authorized under federal law to be heard in state courts. Currently, Texans must file in federal courts, which are more expensive for both plaintiffs and defendants.

Over the coming months, I plan to explore these issues in depth in future Email Expresses. I look forward to hearing from you this session as we try to steer Texas onto a brighter path.

Sincerely,
RE Signature
Rodney Ellis

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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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Ellis: “I am proud to Stand with Wendy for Texas Women”

(Austin, TX)Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today released the following statement regarding Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster of SB 5, omnibus legislation dramatically reducing reproductive freedom in Texas. 

 “I could not be more proud of my friend and colleague, Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster of SB 5.  I and tens of thousands of Texans stood with her in her heroic battle for women’s health and choice.  It was an incredible, awe-inspiring moment of passionate citizen action meeting incredible personal will and strength.

“Senate Bill 5 was an unprecedented, unreasonable and unconscionable attack on women’s health.  It would have eliminated access to reproductive services in all but 4 of Texas’ 254 counties in Texas and all but eradicated Texas women’s ability to receive health care services they are constitutionally protected to receive.  Opponents of reproductive freedom want to make it virtually impossible for Texas women to seek safe, legal health care without facing the political consequences of trying to ban all abortions.  It is a cynical, destructive but, sadly, effective strategy.

“Rather than taking up issues that hard-working Texans want us to address, we are instead continuing the war on women by decreasing Texas women’s access to health care.  Senate Bill 5 would enact some of the most restrictive limitations on reproductive freedom in the nation. They bring Big Government into what should be a very personal and private matter between a woman, her doctor and her faith, all under the Orwellian talking point of ‘protecting women’s health.’

“Texas women deserve better.

“During the debate in the Senate, members in favor of this legislation spoke eloquently about caring for the unborn, noting that these measures will increase the quality and standard of care.   They, somewhat incredulously, argued that this anti-choice legislation has nothing to do with restricting a Texas woman’s right to control her own body.  But let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and give proponents of further erosion of reproductive rights the benefit of the doubt and say they truly are concerned about women’s health.  If that is sincerely the case, then the answer is shockingly simple: expand access to health insurance under Obamacare.

“Yet they refused to accept an amendment that I offered which would truly improve the quality of life and health of Texas women and families.

“This amendment would have made these anti-choice bills effective only if Texas expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  With approximately one in four Texans lacking insurance and about 16 percent of Texas children uninsured, this amendment could have provided health insurance to approximately 1.5 million additional Texans, including resources to improve access to quality care for women, infants and children.

“Lack of adequate health insurance coverage makes it hard for Texas families to get the health care they need, and if and when they do it leaves them with large medical bills.  In fact, study after study has shown that one of the best ways to protect and improve the health of women and babies – born and unborn — is by expanding access to quality health insurance.  Having health insurance contributes to healthier mothers, healthier children, and significantly reduces infant mortality. In fact, women who lack insurance are more likely to have inadequate care, receive a significantly lower standard of care and are more likely to postpone or skip entirely needed care because they lack the money to pay for it.  This has a serious impact on all Texans, especially our children.

“According to the 2012 Texas KIDS COUNT report, almost 40 percent of Texas mothers received little or no prenatal care and one in seven babies were born premature. It also noted that only 58 percent of kids without insurance are considered healthy, while 90 percent of insured kids are healthy.  Patients with health insurance are more likely to visit a doctor regularly and obtain routine exams that lead to early detection and treatment.

“Too many hard-working Texans fall into the current gap where they make too much money to qualify for the current Medicaid system but too little to be able to purchase insurance in the private market.  For these individuals eligible for the expansion, Medicaid will mean the opportunity to have a primary doctor and continuity in care thereby reducing their reliance on the expensive care currently provided in emergency rooms.

“This expansion will also give previously uninsured women access to the tools necessary to make them healthier, including family planning services and contraception, which will reduce unintended pregnancies, improve birth outcomes, and reduce infant mortality.

“If proponents of draconian anti-choice laws are serious about helping Texas women, they should be fighting equally hard to expand access to health insurance, not trying to pass bills that will decrease access, increase complications and harm women.  They should fight for measures that will truly protect our most vulnerable and increase access to quality care for women and families, not do all they can to obstruct those efforts.

“The sad truth is that Texas is failing our mothers, failing our children and failing to focus on solutions that help all Texans, rather than narrow partisan interests.  Texas women and families deserve better.”

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Ellis: “I oppose unprecedented, unreasonable and unconscionable attack on women’s health

(Austin, TX)Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today released the following statement regarding the SB 5, omnibus legislation dramatically reducing reproductive freedom in Texas. 

 

“I am voting against suspending any rule to bring up for debate SB 5, because I oppose this unprecedented, unreasonable and unconscionable attack on women’s health.  Once it is eligible for debate, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with any and every one opposed to this draconian legislation.

 

“There are 254 counties in Texas; under SB 5, women would have access to these critical services in exactly four of them.  The clear goal of this legislation is to eradicate Texas women’s ability to receive health care services they are constitutionally protected to receive.  Opponents of reproductive freedom want to make it virtually impossible for Texas women to seek safe, legal health care without facing the political consequences of trying to ban all abortions.  It is a cynical, destructive but, sadly, effective strategy.

 

“Rather than taking up issues that hard-working Texans want us to address, we are instead continuing the war on women by decreasing Texas women’s access to health care.  Senate Bill 5 would enact some of the most restrictive limitations on reproductive freedom in the nation. They bring Big Government into what should be a very personal and private matter between a woman, her doctor and her faith, all under the Orwellian talking point of ‘protecting women’s health.’

 

“Texas women deserve better.

 

“As the father of three daughters, these are not the types of private, personal decisions I want the Legislature making for them. All of these bills are masked in the cover of making women safer and healthier, when in reality these are political issues that seek to take away a woman’s choice. They restrict the practice of medicine and weaken standards of care and patient safety, which will have devastating consequences when a woman is experiencing medical complications.

 

“During the debate in the Senate, members in favor of this legislation spoke eloquently about caring for the unborn, noting that these measures will increase the quality and standard of care.   They, somewhat incredulously, argued that this anti-choice legislation has nothing to do with restricting a Texas woman’s right to control her own body.  But let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and give proponents of further erosion of reproductive rights the benefit of the doubt and say they truly are concerned about women’s health.  If that is sincerely the case, then the answer is shockingly simple: expand access to health insurance under Obamacare.

 

“Yet they refused to accept an amendment that I offered which would truly improve the quality of life and health of Texas women and families.

 

“This amendment would have made these anti-choice bills effective only if Texas expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  With approximately one in four Texans lacking insurance and about 16 percent of Texas children uninsured, this amendment could have provided health insurance to approximately 1.5 million additional Texans, including resources to improve access to quality care for women, infants and children.

 

“Lack of adequate health insurance coverage makes it hard for Texas families to get the health care they need, and if and when they do it leaves them with large medical bills.  In fact, study after study has shown that one of the best ways to protect and improve the health of women and babies – born and unborn — is by expanding access to quality health insurance.  Having health insurance contributes to healthier mothers, healthier children, and significantly reduces infant mortality. In fact, women who lack insurance are more likely to have inadequate care, receive a significantly lower standard of care and are more likely to postpone or skip entirely needed care because they lack the money to pay for it.  This has a serious impact on all Texans, especially our children.

 

“According to the 2012 Texas KIDS COUNT report, almost 40 percent of Texas mothers received little or no prenatal care and one in seven babies were born premature. It also noted that only 58 percent of kids without insurance are considered healthy, while 90 percent of insured kids are healthy.  Patients with health insurance are more likely to visit a doctor regularly and obtain routine exams that lead to early detection and treatment.

 

“Too many hard-working Texans fall into the current gap where they make too much money to qualify for the current Medicaid system but too little to be able to purchase insurance in the private market.  For these individuals eligible for the expansion, Medicaid will mean the opportunity to have a primary doctor and continuity in care thereby reducing their reliance on the expensive care currently provided in emergency rooms.

 

“This expansion will also give previously uninsured women access to the tools necessary to make them healthier, including family planning services and contraception, which will reduce unintended pregnancies, improve birth outcomes, and reduce infant mortality.

 

“If proponents of draconian anti-choice laws are serious about helping Texas women, they should be fighting equally hard to expand access to health insurance, not trying to pass bills that will decrease access, increase complications and harm women.  They should fight for measures that will truly protect our most vulnerable and increase access to quality care for women and families, not do all they can to obstruct those efforts.

 

“The sad truth is that Texas is failing our mothers, failing our children and failing to focus on solutions that help all Texans, rather than narrow partisan interests.  Texas women and families deserve better.”

 

 

 

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Ellis Rips Senate’s War on Texas Women’s Right to Choose

(Austin, TX)Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today released the following statement regarding the continuing attack on Texas women’s right to choose.   

“The war on women is apparently alive and well in Texas.  Just days after Governor Perry vetoed legislation requiring equal pay for equal work for women, the Texas Senate has decided to dramatically decrease access to health care and harm Texas women.   Texas Women deserve better treatment than they are getting from their government.

“None of these bills passed the Senate during the regular legislative session, demonstrating the lack of support for these issues by the body.  Now in special session under new rules we will be forcing a woman to allow government into what should be a very personal and private matter between her, her family, and her doctor.

“There are 254 counties in Texas; Under SB 5, women would have access to these critical services in exactly five of them.  Anti-choice advocates are simply eradicating Texas women’s ability to receive health care services they are constitutionally protected to receive.  They want to make it virtually impossible for Texas women to seek safe, legal health care without facing the political consequences of trying to ban all abortion.  It is a cynical, destructive but, sadly, effective strategy.

“All of these bills are masked in the cover of making women safer and healthier, when in reality these are political issues that seek to take away a women’s choice.   They restrict the practice of medicine and weaken standards of care and patient safety.  These plans will have devastating consequences when a woman is experiencing medical complications.

“As a father of three daughters, these are not the types of private, personal decisions I want the Legislature making for them.

“We all saw the effects of these very same rash political decisions, with the cuts to family planning last session, which gained points with certain political parties but served no real purpose to make the lives of every day Texans better and in fact had devastating consequences for access to care for many.

“Thankfully with bipartisan support, some of the cuts to funding were restored.  It is disappointing and insulting that after the cooperative regular legislative session we just completed that these partisan issues were added to the call.

“I hope members realize that these bills will decrease access, increase complications and harm women.”

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Ellis: Expand Special Session Agenda to include Priorities Texans Care About

(Austin, TX)Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today sent the following letter to Governor Rick Perry asking him to add reviewing tax loopholes, Medicaid expansion and college costs to the special session agenda:

June 11, 2013

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711

Dear Governor Perry:

The 83rd Legislative Session closed with work still left to be done on several important issues beyond just redistricting. As you consider adding additional subjects to the special session agenda, I hope you will keep an open mind and ask the legislature to find solutions on cataloging and reigning in wasteful tax expenditures, expanding access to affordable health insurance, and making college more affordable to Texas families.

As you proudly point out, Texas continues to grow rapidly, with more and more Americans and businesses choosing to make our state home. But that growth comes at a cost, as more people mean more schools, more roads, more hospitals and more services. Texas is at a budget crossroads; tax increases are ruled out, so each session we struggle to find the revenue to meet our growing needs and to invest in the very things that will continue on our success. With these challenges, it is critical that we know exactly how every tax dollar is used. To this end, I urge you to add review of over $44 billion in state and local tax loopholes to the special session call.

During the session, the Senate unanimously approved just such a study to identify and review Texas’ tax preferences, ensure that they are carrying out their intended purposes, and advance more efficient and effective economic policy. Unfortunately, this provision was removed in the dead of night, protecting these special interest tax subsidies in a cloak of darkness and secrecy while adding hundreds of millions of more tax giveaways to the code. It is time to shine the light on these loopholes, but it will require your assistance and leadership.

Another challenge that will determine Texas’ future success is addressing the staggering health care crisis facing our state. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, with one in four Texans lacking any health insurance at all and, according to a new report, 54 percent lacking any meaningful coverage. There are more uninsured in Texas – 6,080,000 – than the entire populations of Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming combined – 6,021,410. And our Medicaid program currently spends less than the national average per enrollee and also reimburses doctors, hospitals and other providers less than the national average. We can provide insurance to 1.5 million Texans if we act now on the Affordable Care Act, but we must get to work now.

Providing health care access to 1.5 million Texans does not just make moral and social sense, it makes economic sense. Two recent studies show just how good a deal expanding Medicaid would be for Texas. 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 expanding the program. Furthermore, Medicaid expansion would create approximately 300,000 Texas jobs per year for the next decade, and will reduce the $5 billion per year Texas hospitals pay in uncompensated care. These costs are currently passed on to all Texans in the form of higher prices, as well as a direct tax in areas that have hospital districts. I hope you will address this crisis by adding this important issue to the special session call.

Finally, the rising cost of college continues to be a serious challenge to Texas families. Since tuition deregulation was passed in 2003, the cost of tuition and fees at state colleges and universities has increased by 90 percent, and has risen even more at some of our top institutions.

While some of us warned this would be the outcome, those who supported tuition deregulation assured Texans price spikes would not happen. It is past time for the legislature to stop abdicating its responsibility to Texans on higher education and make the tough decisions on tuition. I believe there is more than enough support in the legislature to explore new ideas on college affordability and end tuition deregulation.

I know you believe that tuition deregulation was the right thing to do in 2003, but it has long since outlived its usefulness and has become a significant barrier for Texans trying to afford college. I urge you to add a review of tuition deregulation and college affordability measures to the special session call.

I sincerely hope you will take these important issues into consideration as you deliberate whether to expand the call for the 1st Called Special Session of the 83rd Texas Legislature. Hard-working Texans deserve no less than a full and open debate on these critical matters.

Sincerely,

Rodney Ellis

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Rainy Day Fund OK for Water, Roads & Schools

Last week I told you about SJR 1, legislation to take $6 billion from the Rainy Day Fund and invest it water and transportation projects. I was wary of using the Rainy Day Fund solely on water and transportation and said we had to use money from the fund to restore the disastrous cuts to public education enacted in 2011. Continue Reading »

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