Texas groups call for lawmakers to put Medicaid expansion to a vote

Texas Politics

AUSTIN, Texas (Nexstar) — Different consumer and healthcare organizations rallied at the Texas State Capitol saying around one million uninsured Texans would be able to get coverage if the state of Texas expands Medicaid. 

Texas Medicaid only covers low-income adults if they have a disability, are pregnant, care for a child or are seniors. Right now, very few parents qualify for Medicaid insurance under the current Texas policy. For example, the income cut off outlined on the state’s website shows a single parent of one can only qualify for Medicaid if their maximum monthly income is $196. For a single parent of two children, the cutoff for the maximum monthly income is $230. Texas is one of 14 states that didn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. 

Dr. Roopa Nalam, an internal practice doctor from Houston, says a lot of the patients she sees fall into a gap where they can’t afford health insurance, but don’t qualify for Medicaid. Advocates say more low-income parents and other adults would qualify for Medicaid insurance if lawmakers expanded Medicaid.

“It makes you feel helpless as a healthcare provider when you know what medicine or what treatment someone needs and you’re not able to offer it to them.”

Nalam says it’s a problem that happens to often. 

“I’m thinking of one [patient] in particular where she had a heart transplant and she didn’t get her transplant medications because she didn’t have healthcare coverage.”

The groups at the Medicaid expansion rally Monday want lawmakers to put the issue to a vote so Texans can decide. Similar steps were taken in Nebraska, Idaho and Utah last year, where voters approved Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers have filed legislation for constitutional amendments and to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot in the state. State Sen. Nathan Johnson, who attended the rally, said he feels a shift in the Texas landscape where Medicaid is concerned. 

“It’s definitely shifting,” said State Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas. “There’s no question about it. How far has it shifted, are we at the tipping point just yet? We’ll find out.” 

A report by the Episcopal Health Foundation released Monday said seven in 10 Texans “have a favorable opinion of Medicaid” and nearly 60 percent of Texans “believe that the current Medicaid program is working well for most low-income people covered by the program in the state.” It also states nearly two-thirds of Texans support expansion. 

However David Balat, director for Right on Healthcare at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, doesn’t see Medicaid expansion as the right solution for improving patient care. Balat said there needs to be an entirely new system reforming how healthcare is delivered to patients and the system that physicians work with.

“Primary care doctors are struggling to get the medications patients need, to get some of the specialists so they can get the treatment they need,” he said. “Those are some of the very basic things to the healthcare industry and we’re not able to do it now.” 

“If something’s broken, you don’t just make that thing bigger to make it fixed,” he continued. 

The Episcopal Health Foundation’s report found Texans also want lawmakers to address lowering prescription drug costs, increasing mental health funding and reducing maternal mortality. 

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