Expanding Medicaid is wise fiscal policy

Dade Phelan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, issued interim charges related to health care reform in Texas.

The House Select Committee on Health Care Reform will meet in Austin on August 4-5, 2022 to address this charge.

As the only member from the Rio Grande Valley and Vice Chair of the Committee on Public Health, I am honored to represent the RGV and advocate for better health care access and 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 have failed to expand Medicaid, even after a pandemic exposed 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 is disproportionately negatively impacted.

The need for access to affordable health care in the Valley is even more important given the unique health care needs of our community. Rates of obesity and diabetes are higher in Hispanic communities, conditions that lead to complications with COVID-19. In Hidalgo County, 42.9% of adults are obese compared to just 29.2% of all Texas adults, according to the American Community Survey. The numbers are worse for our uninsured rate; 50.3% of adults ages 18-64 report that they lack health insurance compared to 26.7% of adults in non-border counties.

I have long been a supporter of expanding Medicaid. It is simply wise fiscal policy. During the regular session, I introduced House Bill 1741, also known as the “Texas Healthy Businesses Act” to expand Medicaid to those eligible under federal dollar matching. 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, reducing Texans’ responsibility to just 10%. Expanding coverage for adults between the ages of 19 and 64 with incomes below 138% of the poverty level (a family of four earning $38,295 or less per year) is not only wise 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 the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation. Let’s insure our uninsured neighbors through Medicaid so they can get the preventive care they need before emergency room bills cost taxpayers unnecessary money and families are destroyed by the death of the breadwinner or the financial ruin from medical bills.

One of the many factors that complicate health care costs is the lack of price transparency for office visits, hospital visits, and medications. Imagine if you were to buy a car and you didn’t know how much it would cost until after you drove it off the lot. Patients in Texas deserve to know the cost of treatments and services in advance so they can plan for their personal health and financial circumstances. Price disclosure, across the board, from service providers to services provided to drug costs, would allow patients to compare the cost of hospital treatments and make the best decision for themselves. It would also increase competition in the market.

The Select Committee has been specifically charged with:

1. Study the implications of excessive health care costs on the effectiveness of Texas Medicaid and the private health insurance market and the resulting impact on individual Texans, businesses, and state government.

2. Monitor the implementation and enforcement of current price transparency requirements and explore ways the state can support patients and increase competition. Make legislative and administrative recommendations, as appropriate; Y

3. Evaluate innovative and fiscally positive options to ensure Texans have access to affordable, quality, and comprehensive health care, with an emphasis on reaching low-income and at-risk populations. The evaluation must include a review of strategies that other states and organizations have implemented or proposed to address access and affordability of health care. Make recommendations to increase access points to primary health care in Texas.

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

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

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

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