Perhaps no state needs health care reform more urgently than Texas. One in four Texans—about six million people—lacks health insurance, by far the highest percentage in the country. People without insurance lead less healthy lives, are less productive employees and frequently show up in emergency rooms. In 2008, uninsured patients cost Texas hospitals at least $2 billion worth of uncompensated care, according to the Texas Hospital Association. People without insurance not only harm the economy, they cost us all money.
Yet Texas’ elected officials have ignored this problem for years. It seemed an act of God would be required for Texas to do something about the uninsured. Instead, the issue was addressed by that other higher power—the federal government.
The historic health care reform passed by Congress and signed by the president in late March will cover more than 30 million Americans who are currently uninsured, including several million Texans.
Gov. Rick Perry and other state officials aren’t exactly thrilled by the idea. In a recent newspaper op-ed, Perry termed the health care bill a “disaster.” In another statement, the governor lamented that Texas would be forced to add “two million people to our Medicaid rolls”—as if that were a bad thing.
It’s no secret that Texas has never been keen on paying for poor people’s health care. Our government assistance programs are among the most miserly in the country. But health care reform will require Texas, beginning in 2014, to expand its Medicaid program to cover all adults earning $18,000 a year or less. The federal government will foot the entire bill for Texas’ Medicaid expansion for the first three years, and will cover many of the costs, on a sliding scale, beyond that. Yes, there will be some upfront costs for Texas taxpayers too—though not quite the $27 billion over 10 years projected by state health officials. That estimate has been disputed by the feds and independent think tanks.
The health care bill isn’t perfect. Its mandate that all Americans purchase insurance is the first time in our history that the government will require citizens to buy a product from private industry. And the reform is unlikely to lower premiums, though it may slow their increase. Still, in a state like Texas where millions have suffered or even died from lack of insurance, the benefits of the bill outweigh its flaws.
This state will be far better off—economically, physically, morally—for providing health care to its poorest citizens.