Issues: Health Issues

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.

SenatorEllisHealthInsPOSTERd1r2

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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