By Areana Quiñones, Executive Director of Doctors for Change
While Texas excels in many sectors, on the issue of access to healthcare for working Texans and their children, there is vast room for improvement. It is an unfortunate fact that in 2018, 17.7% of Texas residents — about 5 million people — had no health coverage, up from 17.3% in 2017. Both years, Texas had almost double the number of uninsured people compared with the national average of 8.7% in 2017 and 8.9% in 2018. It was one of only nine states to record an increase in the uninsured rate according to the US Census Bureau. Most notably, Texas is one of 12 states that has chosen not to expand Medicaid. This has also resulted in the loss of nearly $100 billion in federal funding for the state to support expansion.
Last Thursday the Texas State Legislature had the opportunity to ensure that the nearly 2 million Texans without any health insurance coverage could access healthcare without having to choose between paying for housing, food, or medicine. Sadly, the measure which was proposed as a budget amendment was not passed.
Access to health care is critical to help keep people healthy and safe. People without insurance often avoid preventative checkups and care because they cannot afford it. Avoiding care can lead to more devastating diagnosis and chronic illnesses that are more costly to both patients and communities in the long-term. This is especially critical as we slowly recover from the COVID-19 global pandemic and earn back the gains that state had made prior to 2020.
Moreover, the current Medicaid exemption waiver (known as the 1115 wavier) is set to expire in 2022 and Texas’s most recent request for an extension has been denied. The 1115 waiver reimburses hospitals for the care they provide to patients without health insurance and pays for health care projects that serve low-income Texans. It is a way for Texas to receive federal funding without having to fully expand Medicaid. Texas can reapply for the waiver; however full Medicaid expansion would allow more federal funding to flow to the state.
Hope is not lost. The Texas House of Representatives still has the opportunity to debate and pass House Bill 3871 by state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton. That bill creates the “Live Well Texas” plan to capture the federal dollars and expand Medicaid eligibility. While not a full expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, it will still go a long way to help Texans access healthcare. If Medicaid expansion is not in the cards this legislative session, then the bi-partisan “Live Well Texas” is a decent alternative.
As an organization of medical and public health professionals, Doctors for Change is calling on our political leaders move the bill out of committee and to support the passage of the bill. We cannot afford to wait until the next legislative session in 2023 to engage in another debate about Medicaid expansion. It is critical that all Texans have access to healthcare. A full economic and social recovery from COVID-19 for the state will not happen if we cannot support hard working individuals and their families as they struggle to recover as well.
Your voice is needed now. Please contact members of the Texas House Human Services Committee and ask them to schedule a hearing and vote for HB 3871.