Opinion: Texas cannot afford to miss the Affordable Care Act

The Governor and legislative leaders who take a ‘no’ position on implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Texas lack compassion, ignore objective facts, and perpetuate injustice.

Compassion: Texas already has one of the most stringent Medicaid programs in the country, yet in 2010, the 82nd Legislative Session leaders further cut and underfunded Medicaid. These shortsighted decisions heighten our national decade-old standing as the state with the most uninsured and underinsured population in the country.

Failure to implement the Medicaid expansion and Health Care Exchange will mean millions of uninsured Texans will continue to be at-risk for poor health and financial consequences.  With ACA, an estimated one million additional adult Texans with poverty level incomes will be insured.  Furthermore, the Health Insurance Exchange will help an estimated 2.5 million uninsured low to middle-income Texans to purchase affordable health insurance coverage.

Ignoring the Facts: Texans have one of the lowest rates (51 percent) of employer-base health insurance coverage in the country. Our state has some of the highest health care costs in the country, yet overall health care quality ranks 50th in the nation.  Houston, with its world-renowned medical centers has twice the national average of its residents with poor or fair health.  

Access to affordable health care is essential because without it, opportunities to learn, work, earn a living wage and create wealth, and be a productive citizen are all diminished. 

Injustice: To block the ACA is an injustice. The ACA will create an equal opportunity for access to quality health care.  The disparities, inequalities, and the costly way our health care system functions are extensively documented.  Second, health prevention is a priority that reduces poor health-risks and maintains good health. Third, improving cost-effective quality care in the management of chronic health conditions is a major priority. 

Among Latinos, national polls demonstrate their strong support for the ACA.  Our values are aligned with the historic decision to reform health care. In Texas, we represent 37 percent of the population yet 58 percent of the uninsured.  Research indicates that the shift to a Latino majority state also means a shift to greater incidence and prevalence of chronic disease.  Not seeking preventive care, prevalence of chronic health conditions, excessive emergency room use, lost work productivity and related financial insecurity are disparities and inequities that can be addressed through the ACA.

As we approach the November elections, health care and Medicare dominate the political and policy discussions and some question the effectiveness of ACA. Yet, the VA health system and Medicare are forms of socialized medicine with high marks for providing quality health care. Those who say “we must control health care costs” are short-sighted and ignore the victims and the powerless.  Too many Texas political leaders are rich in biased ideology and political rhetoric which has little to do with reasonably objective conservative or liberal values on policy positions. As a result, Texas is near dirt poor in human investments in education and health. The politics and policies that favor the few are a central message why it’s okay to be a low pay and poor income state – most of us may have a job, but many just get by day to day.  For the average Texan, it creates a high-risk environment for poor health and financial insecurity.      

Good health is a financial asset because it contributes significantly to our state’s economic growth. Demand support for the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid and the Health Insurance Exchange from your legislative representative.

Written by Juan Flores, Executive Director, La Fe Policy Research and Education Center. Shared with permission by Deborah Charnes.