By Juan Flores, NewsTaco
Millions of Texas workers have had no health insurance coverage or have struggled to keep it before the arrival of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or ‘Obamacare’. Workers with coverage have been progressively paying a larger share of their monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs for doctor visits, prescriptions, and hospitalization. Major gaps in health care quality have also been part of this problem along with the high costs of care. The problems with Texas’ healthcare system and its negative impacts on families, businesses and health providers are extensively documented in the “Code Red” report in 2006. The report further documents the vulnerability of the health and financial security of middle income, low-wage African-American and Hispanic families.
A Task Force of experts conducted this report that was supported by ten of the state’s major health research, training and medical care institutions. Other state and national health care reports have echoed many of the same problems. Yet, to date, few improvements have been made. Why, then, have our Governor and many of our legislators made inaccurate statements that the ACA would hurt the great health care system we supposedly have?
To make matters worse, our political leaders are placing barriers to healthcare for 6.4 million uninsured Texans many of whom have an opportunity to acquire insurance coverage under the ACA. The barriers include not expanding Medicaid and creating obstacles for low to middle-income families from enrolling in the Health Insurance Exchange which provides subsidies to make purchasing health insurance affordable. The mostly political disingenuous objections are evidenced by the dissemination of negative misleading information about the ACA. They disregard the unbiased evidence that the current system is unequal, costly, and provides less than adequate access to quality health care for millions of workers and their family member.
Texas workers are good people who don’t like to complain, they simply try to do the best they can regardless of their health and financial circumstances. The fact remains that too many don’t get the care they need and poorer health, sometimes death, and financial debt are the result.
It’s important to single out the “Pinocchio” rhetoric that “the ACA will negatively affect business, employee jobs and pay.” The truth is; Texas is a low minimum wage state; 2nd, we rank well below the national average in providing employer-based health insurance; 3rd, more and more employees are increasingly paying more premium costs and co-pays; 4th quality care yet we rank last nationally; and 5th uninsured, only 48% of adults have employer-based health insurance coverage, and a dismal 33% of their children are covered compared to 67% non-Latino White children.
While approximately 1.8 million Texans will have an opportunity to gain coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange; the Governor and the Legislature have created a ‘black hole’ for another 1.7 million, leaving them no opportunity for health insurance because of their failure to accept the billions of dollars from the ACA to expand the Medicaid Program. How much more stress, poor health, and pain should we ask working families to endure?
For more than 2 decades, our state legislators and health agency heads have carried out health reform by advocating efficiency and quality, and reducing fraud. These efforts have done little to reduce the number of uninsured, to make comprehensive changes, or make significant impacts the state’s access and quality healthcare gaps. Indeed, some of their proposed solutions have been counter-productive and have set us back even further. For example, their passage of House Bill 2272 in 2003 resulted in a $899 million outsourced contract to privatize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid, Food Stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). The contract was terminated in 2007 after massive implementation failures causing disruption and pain to thousands of children and their families. Our political leaders were strong advocates for the creation of the 3 billion dollar Cancer Prevention and Research Fund (CRIP) which has recently been plagued by scandals of poor management and political cronyism in awarding $56 million dollars in grant funds.
Should we not give similar priority attention to the thousands of Texas workers and families who needlessly endure poor health or are at high-risk for chronic illnesses that contribute to costly health problems and premature death? These are problems that help keep our poverty rates high, and make the state less productive. Also, they are inequalities that most economists agree hinder economic growth.
We have a deep-rooted financially (not family) motivated healthcare system that is unequal, undermines the health and financial security of millions, and costly for everyone. We are paying the price for over 60 years of unsuccessful legislation to reform our health care system.
Implementing the ACA is just a small first step in what will be years of implementation and changes. Texas workers and their families need to remind their representative that they need to ‘lead’ not obstruct change as the Code Red report hoped they would.
For Over 30 years Juan H. Flores been engaged as Chicano health advocate, Administrator, Health Care Policy, Community Health Care, and Health Professions Development. He founded the Chicano Health Policy Development, Inc. (1978-1992) that served as a major catalyst for raising Latino/Chicano health concerns at the national and state level.
[Photo by Texas Governor Rick Perry]