A Texas town hall on health care is a reflection of the presidential primary

Amid the complex debate nationally in the Democratic Party over health care — Medicare for All versus public option versus building on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare — all voters really want are lower health care costs and protections for pre-existing conditions, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll

The same is true in Texas. “Whether it’s protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions or getting access to affordable care, it’s clear that Texans want state lawmakers to do more to make the health care system work better,” said Elena Marks, president and CEO of the Episcopal Health Foundation, earlier this year.

Still, the Democratic presidential primary is shaping the health care conversation across the country. On one end of the spectrum is Joe Biden who wants to improve Obamacare — which allows people to keep their employer-provided insurance– by adding on a public option. On the other end is the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren duo pushing for Medicare for All — a single-payer, government-run program covering everyone that would replace almost all other public and private insurance plans.

Texas town hall

U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Houston hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday with five diverse Texas healthcare leaders, including Marks, Katy Caldwell of Legacy Community Health, and Freddie Warner of Memorial Hermann. As the event opened up to questions from the audience, the discussion quickly shifted away from Texas’ uninsured crisis to the more contentious Medicare for All. One audience member urged Fletcher to oppose  “socialized healthcare.” But many who were handed a microphone voiced their support for Medicare for All and told personal stories about how the rising cost of healthcare impacted them. 

One man said he was helping care for his father who suffered a stroke and could no longer work because the deductibles and copayments were simply too high. “We’re having this conversation like it’s rocket science,” he said. “Every other country has a single-payer system, go anywhere in the developed world, they have single-payer health insurance.” 

Fletcher made it clear where she stands in the debate.

“I think the best thing to do is to work on shoring up the Affordable Care Act and addressing the challenges to coverage and costs that we know we can address quickly,” Fletcher told the audience. “I realize that’s not what everyone in the room wants to hear– and there are other ideas and I’m open to listening always– but I don’t think right now that is the best path forward.” 

Warner of Memorial Hermann said he feared the budget costs of Medicare for All and believed the ambitious plan lacked the necessary votes in Congress. After the town hall, Warner told The Signal the evening’s energy demonstrated how complex the issue of healthcare was and understood that the frustration from the audience came from real personal experiences.

Keeping perspective

Despite differing policy ideas at the presidential campaign level, Democrats are committed to improving the health care system and voters rewarded them at the polls last year. It’s likely health care will again play a prominent role in the general election for the White House in 2020. Meanwhile, Republicans in Washington, D.C. under President Trump continue to be vexed by an inability to pass major health care reforms. 

In Texas, GOP lawmakers continue to pass up the opportunity to improve health care reforms and refuse to expand Medicaid.

“It’s just kind of astonishing that in the state with the worst uninsured percentage and the biggest uninsured number, and the worst rate for children, that none of our state leaders have identified that as a problem or suggested that we should do anything about that,” Ann Beeson, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, told The Signal following this year’s legislative session.

Photo: Fernando Ramirez/The Texas Signal

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