Texas is an important data point in the national healthcare debate. According to a U.S. Census report released this month, Texas still has the largest uninsured population in the country – 6.4 million people. Additional data shows one in three working-age adults in Texas is uninsured.
As a conservative in Texas, I’ve listened to and considered the Republican crusade to block Obamacare. It’s hard to ignore people like Sen. Ted Cruz, whose vitriolic attacks on the measure have made national headlines, or Gov. Rick Perry, who made sure Texas received no federal funds for Medicaid expansion.
Despite defunding talks and Republican opposition, the open enrollment marketplace is still scheduled to open Oct. 1, and Texas needs to do everything it can to ensure certified enrollment specialists are in place and consumers who qualify have the information they need to apply for benefits. Those looking for coverage will be directed to the open enrollment marketplace, where eligible individuals, families, and small businesses can receive a new coverage plan. Those who do not qualify based on their income may be directed to Medicaid, but Perry’s decision to halt the expansion of Medicaid in Texas last session may mean these families will continue to be uninsured.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is designed for families whose incomes are too high for Medicaid but too low for private insurance. The plan, which offers extensive benefits with low copayments and enrollment fees, plays a large role in making sure Texas is healthy and covered. According to the Census report released this month, 16.4 percent of children in Texas were uninsured. Though this is still the highest rate in the country, and well above the national average of 9.8 percent, this figure is down from 25 percent just 16 years ago, when CHIP was passed. Regardless of party affiliation, it is clear that the realistic health care solutions of CHIP and Medicaid are creating real change for low-income families in Texas.
The tangible results of CHIP and Medicaid in Texas, evident in the decreasing number of uninsured in the state, seem to have been summarily tossed by lawmakers. The rejection of federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid creates a trap for the poorest in Texas – the parents of a family of four making $25,000 are eligible for a substantial benefit package through the marketplace, but the parents of a family of four making $22,000 are offered no help.
Obamacare is not without its share of problems. The effects of the bill on the labor market, especially in Texas, where small business plays a crucial part in our state economy, are dubious at best - the employer penalties for companies with 50 employees or fewer will ensure that small business growth is stunted and large corporations remain large and uncompetitive. Additionally, insurance in any form should never replace or prohibit someone’s conversation with their doctor. But when 1 million Texans are living below the poverty line with no other foreseeable health care solution, it is the responsibility of lawmakers to both ensure that Texas is prepared for open enrollment and to reconsider a plan to expand Medicaid in the future.
As much as lawmakers in Texas wish to blame the President for the failings of the United States healthcare system, the party-line decision to reject federal funding for Medicaid expansion in Texas is directly responsible for the deplorable health care conditions of the poorest Texans.
Jordan is an English and finance junior from Missouri City.