Emily Mathis

Faith Leaders Rally for Bipartisan Support of Medicaid Expansion


On Wednesday, Florida reversed course saying it will now accept a Medicaid expansion, leaving Texas as the last big Republican state to resist the move. Several interfaith groups from across the state convened at the Texas Capitol Wednesday to push Governor Perry to follow in Florida’s footsteps.

Legislators in support of an expansion joined faith leaders on the Capitol steps to call for bipartisan support of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Faith organizations at the rally included Austin Interfaith, Texas Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) and Valley Interfaith.

Despite calls for bipartisan support, the rally was largely a Democratic affair. State Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) and Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) emphasized sound economic policies in expanding Medicaid. Nevarez stressed the tax cut incentive that Medicaid expansion would bring. West pushed numbers, citing that 25 percent of Texans are uninsured and as much as $24 billion dollars could be added to the state budget by 2017 if Medicaid is expanded.

State Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) stressed that there was bipartisan support behind the expansion. “This bill, the Affordable Care Act, [is] the one called Obamacare because they think if they call it Obamacare maybe Republicans will be against it. Look at the bill. The bill that became the law had over 200 amendments in there that were offered by Republican members of Congress. That is a bipartisan bill. This is an American bill. This is a bill that needs to be implemented in the state of Texas and every other state in this country because it is the right thing to do.”

A pastor affiliated with Austin Interfaith also reiterated the need for bipartisan support in the passage of Medicaid bills this session. “The network of Texas organizations of IAF has never passed any legislation that was not bipartisan. One of our commitments is to go out and seek other leaders who are Republican who also have a passion to bring an expansion of Medicaid to Texas and to our constituents.”

Many also attended the rally on Wednesday to share their personal stories about not having health insurance during times of crisis. One man said his brother couldn’t afford a desperately needed surgery. Another woman described her large church in a poor Austin neighborhood where most of the parishioners have no health insurance. Another woman spoke about her best friend who had had a chronic illness but was unable to visit a doctor until it was much too late for any hope of a cure. The woman, a single mother to a twelve-year-old boy, passed away last month.

Freshman Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) said the state had a moral obligation to take care of the neediest. “We have an obligation to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, and to heal the sick … We have a moral obligation to take care of this – no matter if you are a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent.”