Texas unfortunately boasts the nation’s highest uninsured rate at a stunning 1 out 4 residents. The impact of this massive number of uninsured Texans is seen in overcrowded emergency rooms, rapidly rising health insurance premiums, and some of the nation’s highest property tax rates — not to mention the untreated health problems facing this struggling group of Texans.
State lawmakers had a chance to address this problem in a meaningful way at no cost to the state, with a unique solution that would work well in the conservative Lone Star State. Unfortunately, lawmakers in Austin let that opportunity pass and sided with the radical anti-health reform politics of the state’s governor to the continued detriment of low-income working Texans.
Like every other state, Texas can accept federal funds from the Affordable Care Act to pay for health coverage for low-income people, who often don’t have health insurance through their jobs. In the first few years the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of this new coverage, and then they’ll fund at least 90 percent. Texas can use the funds to expand Medicaid, or like Arkansas, find an alternative solution to fill the vast coverage gap.
In fact, Republican Rep. John Zerwas crafted an idea that at one point looked like it stood a chance at bringing health coverage to low-income Texans. The plan would have drawn down the federal funds – ultimately bringing tax dollars back to Texas – and used the money to get coverage for more than 1 million uninsured without costing taxpayers a dime.
The Texas Hospital Association and Texas Medical Association were in support. The Texas Association of Business and numerous large and small chambers of commerce signed on. Religious and community groups across the state were strongly in favor.
The bill passed out of committee, and momentum built toward a majority of support. But then it unraveled under intense pressure from Gov. Rick Perry and ultra-conservative lawmakers. Not only did that deal die, but the Legislature took several steps backward, actually passing a bill that prohibits state officials from negotiating a plan to increase health coverage.
What happens next is critical. In October, Americans across that nation will begin enrolling in new online insurance marketplaces designed for an easy shopping experience – similar to a travel website. Middle-income families will discover that they qualify for discounts to buy private plans, and lower-income folks will be directed into Medicaid programs or other state alternatives to ensure they get access to coverage at little to no cost. But not in Texas.
In Texas, if you’re earning minimum wage or not much more you’ll find out that there is no new insurance option for you. And you might also find out that there could have been an option, but conservative lawmakers in Austin stood squarely in the way of making that health coverage a reality. And then you might want to ask them why.