Expanding Medicaid is smart fiscal policy

House Speaker Dade Phelan issued preliminary indictments related to Texas health care reform.

The House Select Committee on Healthcare Reform will meet in Austin on August 4-5, 2022 to consider this allegation.

As the sole member from the Rio Grande Valley and vice chair of the Public Health Committee, I am honored to represent RGV and advocate for improved access to health care and better health outcomes in our community.

It’s no secret that Texans pay more for health care than the rest of the country. Texas is one of 12 states that failed to expand Medicaid even after a pandemic that exposed the inequities in our state’s health care system. Due to Texas’ decision to limit access to Medicaid, nearly five million Texans live without access to affordable health care, and the Valley has been disproportionately affected.

The need for affordable healthcare in the Valley is even more important because of the unique healthcare needs of our community. Obesity and diabetes rates are higher in Hispanic communities, conditions both of which lead to complications with COVID-19. According to the American Community Survey, 42.9% of adults in Hidalgo County are obese, compared to just 29.2% of all adults in Texas. The numbers are worse for our uninsured rate; 50.3% of adults ages 18-64 report not having health insurance, compared to 26.7% of adults in non-border counties.

I’ve been a longtime supporter of Medicaid expansion. It’s just smart fiscal policy. During the regular session, I filed House Bill 1741, also known as the Texas Healthy Business Act, to extend Medicaid to those eligible for Federal Matching Dollars. Currently, the federal government covers only 62% of our state’s Medicaid funding—which means Texans pay 38% directly. If Texas expanded Medicaid, the federal government would pay 90% of the cost and reduce Texans’ responsibility to just 10%. Extending coverage to adults ages 19-64 with incomes below 138% of the poverty line (a family of four with an annual income of $38,295 or less) is not only sound fiscal policy, but also a moral imperative.

We know that a healthy population leads to a strong economy. Texas has both the highest number and percentage of uninsured residents in the nation. Let’s get our uninsured neighbors covered with Medicaid so they get the coverage they need before their emergency room bills cost taxpayers money and families are devastated by either the death of a breadwinner or the financial ruin of medical bills.

One of many factors complicating healthcare costs is the lack of price transparency for doctor visits, hospital visits, and medications. Imagine buying a car and not knowing how much it would cost you until you pulled it out of the parking lot? Patients in Texas deserve to know the cost of treatments and services up front so they can make plans for their personal health as well as their economic circumstances. Price disclosure – from providers to services rendered to drug costs – would allow patients to compare the cost of treatment in hospitals and make the best decision for themselves. It would also increase competition in the market.

The Special Committee was specifically mandated to:

1. Examine the impact of excessive healthcare costs on the effectiveness of Texas Medicaid and the private health insurance market and the resulting impact on individual Texans, corporations, and state government.

2. Monitoring the implementation of and compliance with the current price transparency requirements and exploring ways in which the state can support patients and increase competition. Make legislative and administrative recommendations as appropriate; and

3. Evaluate innovative, tax-positive options to ensure Texans have access to affordable, quality, and comprehensive health care, with a focus on reaching low-income and at-risk populations. The assessment should include an examination of strategies that other countries and organizations have implemented or proposed to improve access to and affordability of health care. Make recommendations to improve access points to primary health care in Texas.

You can count on me to stand up for our way of life, especially healthy living, during this hearing in committee and always.

You can watch the hearing live in Austin or here – https://house.texas.gov/video-audio. As always, you can email my office with any concerns [email protected] or by calling 512-463-0578.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was written by McAllen State Representative RD ‘Bobby’ Guerra. The column appears with the permission of the author in the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service. Rep. Guerra can be reached by email at: [email protected]

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