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Texans Lose Health Care, But Oppose Reform Bill

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Two basic facts about health care are clear in this morning’s headlines: Many middle-class Texans are losing their health insurance; but, at the same time, a large majority of Texans oppose the very health care reform bill that would provide them with coverage.

It’s a puzzling dichotomy, and I can only guess at the reasons behind it.

First, the lost insurance: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a study this morning that examines access to health insurance in all 50 states. (For the policy geeks, the full study is here.) As you might imagine, Texas didn’t fare well.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a nice summary of the findings—for those who don’t like digesting data tables:

“The number of middle-class Texans without health insurance increased 41 percent between 2000 and 2008, with nearly 500,000 middle-class workers no longer covered through their job or private insurance, according to a study released today by the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Texans made up about 1 in 5 middle-class Americans who lost health insurance during that period, according to the study.

“The results indicate that America’s middle class — with income of about $45,000 to $85,000 — lost insurance faster than those with less or more income, particularly in Texas.”

So about 500,000 middle-class, working Texans have lost their health insurance the past eight years. Of course, Texas was already the national leader in people without health insurance.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House is inching closer to passing a health care reform bill that would insure an estimated 30 million Americans, including the millions of Texans without insurance and, very likely, the 500,000 workers who lost their coverage in recent years.

(The House may vote on the bill later this week. Read about the bill’s potential impact on Texas here.)

Yet health care reform remains unpopular in this state. The latest evidence appeared in today’s Waco Herald-Tribune, which reports on a poll conducted in Democrat Chet Edwards’ district. The poll showed 60 percent of likely voters in the district oppose the health care bill. Only 30 percent support it.

A couple of notes about the poll. It was commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for political purposes, so take it with a grain of salt. The margin of error is 4.9 percent, which is high.

Still, it’s hard to argue that the results aren’t accurate. The district is about 65 percent Republican—a conservative swath of rural Central Texas from Waco to College Station.

That’s not an especially wealthy part of the state—we’re not talking Highland Park or The Woodlands here. Most of these folks aren’t Country Club Republicans. There are a lot of small towns in that area comprised of middle-class conservatives—some of the very people struggling to afford health insurance.

There are probably many reasons for this trend. Quite a few people likely oppose the bill for ideological reasons. Others may not understand how the bill would affect them. It’s hard to know people’s motivations, and I’m certainly not going to argue that their views are wrong.

But, as we near the end of the health care debate, two facts seem clear: The reform bill would greatly improve access to health care in this state, yet most Texans don’t want it. Go figure.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.