Uninsured Texans Fight to Have Their Voices Heard

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Texas Rally for Medicaid Expansion
Melissa del Bosque
Texas Rally for Medicaid Expansion

About a million Texans have been left without health insurance because state leaders refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Now organizers of a new campaign, “Texas Left Me Out,” want to make sure the stories of those one million uninsured Texans get heard.

There is little hope that Gov. Rick Perry will change his mind and accept $100 billion in funding to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. But the groups behind the campaign—the Cover Texas Now coalition— unveiled at a Wednesday press conference in Austin want the stories of those affected to be at the forefront of the statewide debate on healthcare. The hope is that eventually lawmakers will see the wisdom of insuring those left in the “coverage gap” created by the rejection of Medicaid expansion.

Texas is one of 25 states that haven’t taken the Medicaid deal in which the federal government would pay for almost all the costs of covering individuals who make between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level. It was intended to cover those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to receive subsidies to purchase insurance on the Obamacare health exchanges. Texas, of course, has long had the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the country.

More than 40 groups are part of the Cover Texas Now coalition, including consumer organizations and faith-based groups. The coalition is taking the long view on this issue.

“We feel that certainly not one activity will be sufficient to get the Legislature where it needs to go,” said Anne Dunkelberg of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank that’s part of the coalition.

Dunkelberg said the coalition plans to take their case to Texas business leaders and local elected officials.

“The next thing that needs to happen is to… talk to people closer to the governor and candidates for governor and have those conversations,” Dunkelberg said. “This was a state decision, not a flaw in Obamacare.”

Members of the coalition pointed to two different studies that estimate that thousands of uninsured Texans with chronic conditions are likely to die as a result of not expanding Medicaid.

A Harvard University/CUNY study released last week predicts between 1,840 to 3,035 deaths. Another study, by a University of Texas Medical Branch researcher, projected approximately 9,000 preventable deaths per year. Dr. Robert Luedecke of Doctors for America, a national coalition for healthcare reform, said the death toll associated with the uninsured is something many lawmakers won’t talk about.

“What would people do if they didn’t have health insurance?” Luedecke said of critically ill patients who put off seeing a doctor because they can’t afford it. “They would just die—that’s what they’d do.”

Linda Berman, 63, is one of those who says she’s been left out by Texas. She’s languishing in the coverage gap while dealing with diabetes and high-blood pressure. As a small business owner teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills to kids through a traveling workshop, Berman said she’s left with little to no taxable income at the end of the year. The cheapest individual private plan she’s found comes with a $450 monthly premium—out of her price range. She makes too little to qualify for subsidies on the marketplace and she’s never been eligible for Medicaid under Texas’ strict eligibility standards. Two years ago, Berman racked up $70,000 in medical debt after she was hospitalized.

“I knew I had no money to pay for [the visit] but had I not [paid out of pocket], they wouldn’t have saved my life,” Berman said.

Not long after her hospitalization, a debt counselor told her that she would never be able to pay off her medical debts. Berman soon filed for bankruptcy. The hospital was left holding the bill.

“People without insurance don’t get preventative care,” Berman said. “You don’t die of diabetes, you die of complications.”

Her goal in joining the Cover Texas Now coalition as a spokeswoman is to bring dignity to those like her who have had to struggle to pay for medical care and survive the financial blow. Berman said she’s been left without money to pay her electric bill before and had to ask for help from a local church–one she didn’t belong to.

“It’s very hard to reach out for help… I try to give back (to charities) because I can. People don’t think people of my age group or skin color or background can be in this situation.”

  • Dan Carlisle

    Tell them the rest of the story on this comment “Texas is one of 25 states that haven’t taken the Medicaid deal in which the federal government would pay for almost all the costs of covering individuals who make between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level.” Just how long will it pay the bill and when does it become our bill and we pay it?