Op-Ed: As part of COVID-19 recovery, Texas must expand Medicaid

by | Dec 16, 2020 | Health Care, Opinion

In a normal year, Medicaid expansion is a critical win-win in terms of healthcare and economic impacts. In the midst of a global pandemic, it is unfathomable that Texas leaders would refuse to adopt it.

Texas isn’t a leader on access to healthcare, at least not in the way anyone would want to be. As it stands, our state leads the nation in the number of uninsured people, the rate of uninsured children, and rural hospital closures. We have the unenviable distinction of being the only state with a double-digit rate of uninsured children, and for the first time in a decade, that rate has gone up. The situation is dire, but the good news is we can fight back quickly and decisively.

Adopting Medicaid expansion would provide 2.2 million Texans with access to care, bring $110 billion of our tax dollars back to Texas, and shore up healthcare infrastructure that is stretched to its breaking point. It would create jobs and generate economic activity while lowering all of our healthcare premiums. What makes no sense fiscally is that right now every taxpayer in Texas is paying taxes to support Medicaid expansion in California, New York, and the 36 other states that have expanded Medicaid. We need to stop burying our heads in the sand and bring our money home to help Texans.

We are facing a massive budget deficit that could reverse the progress we made on education funding and teacher pay while also threatening needed support and services for Texas families and small businesses. Medicaid expansion has had clear positive budgetary impacts in states where it has been enacted, including $444 million in Arkansas from 2018 to 2021 and $1 billion in Michigan in that same period. With a 9 to 1 match in federal funds and hundreds of billions of dollars on the table, this is an investment we can’t afford not to make.

In addition to Medicaid expansion, there are two reforms critical to ensuring that the program is as efficient and effective as possible. First, we must pass H.B. 290 by Rep. Phil Cortez. This measure, which would reduce agency red tape that erroneously kicks otherwise eligible children out of the program by standardizing periodic eligibility checks to be one year after eligibility is determined, died in the House Calendars Committee in 2019. Similarly, H.B. 133 by Rep. Toni Rose would expand Medicaid eligibility for mothers from two months post-partum to 12 months. This is the period when most maternal deaths occur and ensuring access to healthcare is critical in reducing our notoriously high maternal mortality rate. Unfortunately, this measure also died in 2019, this time in the Senate. In 2021, failure isn’t an option. We must pass both of these bills next session.

As state legislators, we were elected to lead. Medicaid expansion isn’t the final solution, but it’s the biggest tool we have. By expanding Medicaid, and by shoring up programmatic efforts to increase efficiency and to help children and new mothers, we can drastically improve health outcomes and the economy in Texas. When the stakes are so high and the impacts so clear, Texas leaders must act decisively and put the welfare of its people over partisan political games. If we are to recover from COVID-19 as quickly and completely as possible, then we must pass H.B. 133, enact H.B. 290, and expand Medicaid.

John H. Bucy III is State Representative for Texas House District 136, serving Northwest Austin, Cedar Park, Leander, and the Brushy Creek area.

Photo: AllisonGH/ Wikimedia Commons

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