Texas Media Underreports the Costs of Refusing Medicaid Expansion


A team of Harvard researchers recently released a deeply sobering study quantifying how many Americans stand to die needlessly in the unflinching states hellbent on denying Medicaid expansion, as provided by the Affordable Care Act. The study singles out Texas:

“In Texas, the largest state opting out of Medicaid expansion, 2,013,025 people who would otherwise have been insured will remain uninsured due to the opt-out decision. We estimate that Medicaid expansion in that state would have resulted in 184,192 fewer depression diagnoses, 62,610 fewer individuals suffering catastrophic medical expenditures, and between 1,840 and 3,035 fewer deaths.”

Crunching the numbers, the study suggests that Texas could bear almost 18 percent of a potential 17,104 unnecessary deaths nationwide. The figures are stark, damning, and presented with dispassionate and clinical precision—and yes, the study was quickly subjected to right-wing critics arguing the math.

But neither this thoroughly newsworthy study nor scrutiny of it have earned much attention in the Texas media. Perhaps it will come. More likely, reporters will remain transfixed by horserace coverage of the upcoming November election, as exemplified by Wayne Slater’s mid-January “gotcha” in The Dallas Morning News about how Wendy Davis “blurred” the truth, having lived “only a few months” in the mobile home her official biography describes. (The Huffington Post has a brilliant takedown of that tempest-in-a-teapot by Jim Moore, Slater’s former colleague in Texas.)

Slater’s current colleague at the Morning News, Bob Garrett, has at least written about the financial repercussions, if not the life-and-death ones, of Rick Perry’s abject refusal to bend on his anti-expansion stance, noting that the state stands to lose billions by refusing to expand Medicaid.

Just one or two mainstream Texas outlets have tried to put a human face on the issue. In late January, the San Antonio Express-News wrote about Irma Aguilar, a mother of four who earns $9 an hour at her no-health-insurance job at Pizza Hut. Because she makes a whopping $19,200 a year, by Texas rules she is unable to secure the Medicaid benefits that would help offset the $80,000 in emergency-room care costs she’s accumulated over the past two years, including an uncovered surgery to remove her gallbladder.

Meanwhile, Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Marsha Shuler had an interesting tidbit in her February story about former Louisiana State University System Vice President Fred Cerise being hired as CEO of Dallas’ massive Parkland Memorial Hospital:

“A former state health secretary, Cerise has been an outspoken supporter of Medicaid expansion, which would provide government health insurance to Louisiana’s working poor. Gov. Bobby Jindal has rejected the expansion.”

Makes you wonder how Rick Perry, who out-flanks Jindal from the right, might feel about Cerise’s imminent arrival.

A doctor of internal medicine who recently locked horns with Louisiana lawmakers over their disemboweling of that state’s charity hospital system has now been put in charge of the hospital where Dallas resident George W. Bush, if he were sick and couldn’t afford health insurance, would likely seek treatment—alongside the roughly 15,000 women who go to Parkland every year to give birth (more babies are born in Parkland each year than at any other hospital in America). Parkland’s new CEO adds to a near consensus among Texas hospital administrators—people who daily see the realities imposed by poverty and lack of health insurance—in favor of Medicaid expansion.

If the new opt-out study is to be believed, Texas’ infamous history of resisting federal directives promises more deadly consequences. It might be a good idea for the state’s media to do more stories about the thousands of folks like Irma Aguilar who fall between the coverage cracks, and to let readers know where knowledgeable players like Cerise stand on the issue.

Maybe Cerise, administering a heavyweight public hospital in Dallas, can help drum up the kind of political resistance among his administrative brethren that can persuade Perry to see the light of reason. Maybe that’s a story to poke at, prod, investigate and editorialize about.

Millions of Texas’ poor people remain uninsured, and their stories remain underreported. Maybe we’ll get to read about them when their families start placing the obituaries.