Texas needs more health care, not less
Texas lawmakers in the state Legislature and U.S. Congress should have one item near the top of their list of resolutions for the new year — helping provide more health care for this state, not less. That should seem like an obvious goal, but too many Republican lawmakers in Austin and Washington seem to regard health coverage as some kind of fringe benefit.
Regrettably, the past few years have seen an assault on expanded health by Republicans across Texas and much of the nation. That needs to end in 2019.
Much of the GOP opposition was rooted in resistance to the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. That program was far from perfect, but for millions of Americans it was better than nothing. Under it, they got health insurance, often for the first time in years.
Earlier this month a federal judge in Texas struck down the entire law because he said it was invalidated when Congress removed the individual mandate for coverage in 2017. Most legal analysts believe that judge far overstepped his authority and expect that his ruling will be reversed on appeal, even if it has to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. We hope so, and it is worth noting that the Trump administration — certainly no friend of Obamacare — says it will obey the law until this issue is resolved.
Many Republicans say they support some of the reforms of Obamacare, like ending the ban on coverage for pre-existing conditions. But the reality is that only Obamacare made this possible, as part of a package of give-and-take tradeoffs that both helped health insurers and cost them more money.
At the state level, Republicans remain united in their opposition to expanding Medicaid, even though Republican lawmakers in other conservative states have done that, either as soon as possible or over the past few years, as the benefits of this move became clear.
Medicaid expansion will remain off the table for the new session of the state Legislature that begins in January, though Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to work to lower health care costs and continue coverage for pre-existing conditions. He has not offered many details about those goals, however.
If Congress won’t try to improve health care in 2019 — and sadly, it might not — at least the state Legislature can take firm steps to support struggling clinics and rural hospitals, attract more nurses and doctors and give poor people more options than emergency room visits, which are the most expensive form of health care.
The embarrassing truth is that Texas has more uninsured adults than any state in the nation and the most uninsured youths — 835,000. Even the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin, realizes that the continued shortage of adequate health care is going to hamper this state’s efforts to expand its economy and attract entrepreneurs. The challenge is clear, and the solution requires deeds, not words.