Category: Health Care

House Democratic Caucus Members Introduce “Affordable Health Care for Every Texan” Plan

Yesterday, Members of the House Democratic Caucus hosted press conferences across Texas in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio to introduce the “Affordable Health Care for Every Texan” plan.

The plan is built on expanding Medicaid, ensuring year-round health care coverage for kids and increasing access to women’s health care. The goal is to make health care more affordable and accessible in a time when high quality care is needed more than ever.

Watch recordings of some of the press conferences here:

Austin | Dallas/Fort Worth | Houston

HDC’s Health Care Work Group Discusses 2021 Priorities

On September 16, Representatives from the House Democratic Caucus’ Health Care Work Group hosted a live discussion on Facebook to share Caucus priorities for next session, as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped those priorities.

HDC Chair Chris Turner was joined by Representatives Garnet Coleman (Houston), John Bucy (Austin), Lina Ortega (El Paso), Julie Johnson (Carrollton), Gina Hinojosa (Austin), Terry Meza (Irving), Jon Rosenthal (Houston), Donna Howard (Austin) and John Turner (Dallas).

Watch the video below, or visit our Facebook page.

Texas needs real solutions to solve major COVID problems.

Ever since COVID-19 hit Texas in March, our caucus has repeatedly called for data-driven policies informed by medical experts, and for a prioritization of the safety of all Texans over politics. By contrast, Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans have chosen an entirely different path — willfully ignoring the science, playing political games and refusing to lead.

As our state becomes the fourth in America to reach the grim milestone of 10,000 deaths, we are confronted with the consequences of six months of bad choices. Make no mistake — our COVID numbers and the related impacts were not an inevitability. States headed up by decisive, informed leaders are faring far better than we are. Unless we take action, Texans will continue to struggle. 

We are confronted with two simple questions: what are the biggest problems we are facing at this moment, and how can we solve them?

Problem #1: Vital COVID statistics that should be used to drive decision-making are inconsistent and unreliable.

From the very beginning, Texas’ reporting and analyzing of COVID data has been questionable. Whether it was the state’s conflation of viral and antibody tests, or the recent, dramatic spike in positivity rates that don’t match hospitalization numbers, it’s been difficult to trust the state’s numbers as providing an accurate picture. These discrepancies are compounded by the state’s periodic changes in how data is reported, such as the recent shift to death certificates instead of county reports for COVID fatalities, making it difficult to track changes over time.

Data issues have real-world consequences. How can we create good pandemic policy if we don’t know the current pandemic situation? How can we feel comfortable sending our kids back to school if we have no idea what the actual positivity rate is? How can we make thoughtful decisions about re-openings and closings if we can’t reliably track the key metrics the governor originally stated should determine those decisions?

The Solution

Right now, Gov. Abbott is the only person with oversight on how Texas agencies are collecting, analyzing and distributing COVID data. This is a major concern. The Texas Legislature needs to be allowed to fulfill its responsibilities by keeping the executive branch accountable as we manage this crisis.

Gov. Abbott should instruct the State Preservation Board to open the Capitol in Austin so the Legislature can begin holding safe, socially distant hearings.

Gov. Abbott should instruct the State Preservation Board to open the Capitol in Austin so the Legislature can begin holding safe, socially distant hearings. Legislators must be allowed to call agencies in to better understand the data issues and discrepancies. Texans deserve more transparency around the governor’s and the agencies’ processes, not less.

Problem #2: The COVID pandemic is putting a massive strain on Texas’ budget, depressing forecasted revenue and driving us to a recession.

In late July, the State Comptroller released his prediction of a $4.6 billion revenue shortfall — a dramatic drop from the originally expected multi-billion dollar surplus. Agencies delivering essential services such as health care and unemployment assistance face potential cuts going into next year, which is particularly troubling in a time when we need those services most. The latest actions from the federal government have not provided as much help as was hoped. The promise of extra unemployment benefits carried the caveat that the state must chip in a quarter of the cost, and the U.S. Senate has just adjourned for the rest of summer without agreeing on a new coronavirus relief plan. 

The Solution

Our current economic situation is devastating, especially for workers and families without a job. But there are solutions available to us. Now is not the time to just “tighten our belts.” Now is the time for the governor to expand Medicaid and immediately infuse billions of federal dollars into our economy. Not only would Medicaid expansion yield a much-needed economic boost, it would also help cover the nearly 30% of Texans under 65 that are now uninsured. 

Now is the time for the governor to expand Medicaid and immediately infuse billions of federal dollars into our economy.

In the longer term, Texas House Democrats are committed to closing special interest tax loopholes next Session. By updating state tax policy to ensure everyone pays their fair share, we can increase our state revenue without increasing financial burdens on individual Texas families.

Conclusion

Our state is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of this pandemic. So many of today’s issues have roots in Gov. Abbott months-long track record of poor decisions. Though it’s frustrating, we must take action and pursue the solutions outlined above — and the many more our caucus Members have advocated for — so we may win the war against COVID-19 and restore confidence and competence in our state government.

Fighting for Kids’ Healthcare

Twenty percent of the total number of uninsured children in the U.S. live in Texas, but only 10% of the nation’s children reside here. Texas’ rate of uninsured children has grown to 8.3% in recent years, double the nation’s average. The Austin American-Statesman showcased this problem in an editorial highlighting Texas’ failure to insure children. Currently, Texas ranks second in the rate of uninsured children in the nation. 

Despite our prosperous economy, thousands of Texas parents are left terrified every day, worrying about how they will access basic healthcare needs for their children. Children have a right to adequate healthcare, from routine checkups that can identify, or even prevent, long term health and developmental concerns to more life-threatening issues. Children should be able to access medical care when needed without question, and Texas should protect children and advocate for their best interests. By not confronting our uninsured crisis, we are failing Texas families. 

The number and rate of uninsured children is in part the product of the Trump administration’s insistence on rolling back funding to healthcare systems and outreach programs, including slashes to the Navigator program which helps Texas families identify potential discounts and enroll in the right healthcare plan. Likewise, the blatant attack on immigration under the Trump administration caused many immigrant families living here legally to unenroll in programs in fear of retaliation or deportation.

Additionally, Texas Republicans habitually ignore a clear remedy to the healthcare crisis we face – Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion in Texas could potentially insure roughly 1.1 million more Texans. This past session, Representative John Bucy filed a Democrat-backed amendment to expand Medicaid in Texas, leaving the federal government to cover 93% of the associated costs and leading to years of State savings. GOP state legislators once again rejected attempts to expand Medicaid. 

Beyond Medicaid expansion, Rep. Phillip Cortez filed HB 342 to extend child Medicaid’s continuous eligibility to 12 months to align with Texas CHIP. As we move forward into the new year, House Democrats will continue to prioritize our children’s health and will work to expand the access and ease of healthcare.

Big Issues Last Week

As the session heats up and bills are being heard in committees, this is a great time to check in on where things stand on several issues Texans greatly care about, including expanding health care access to uninsured people, local control of communities, rising property taxes and long-overdue criminal justice reforms to name a few.

 

Medicaid Expansion

This morning, advocacy groups, citizens, and several HDC members gathered on the front steps of the Capitol to speak out for the need for Texas to accept the billions of federal dollars for Medicaid expansion. They braved the cold for such a great cause, and the rally came at a good time. Tomorrow, the House Committee on Insurance will hear, for the first time in 6 years, a bill regarding the expansion of Medicaid.

Chairman Coleman, the bill’s author, joins several other Democrats leading the effort to expand coverage in the state, including Reps. Beckley, Bucy, Israel, Rosenthal, Bernal, and Reynolds to name a few.

 

The ‘Lavinia Masters Act’

Rep. Victoria Neave should be commended for her tremendous, bipartisan leadership on an issue that deserves our full attention: justice for rape survivors. Her bill, named after Lavinia Masters, a survivor in Dallas, would require an audit to determine the number, status and location of all rape kits in Texas. It is a serious step towards bringing true justice to Texans who need help the most.

As Rep. Neave said:

“Every rape kit sitting on a shelf represents a survivor waiting for justice. House Bill 8 seeks to address the circumstances in Lavinia’s case that led to the delay in the testing of her rape kit so that, in future cases, victims are not denied justice.”

 

Raising the Minimum Wage

This year, we have seen several representatives file bills to raise the state’s minimum wage. These bills would put needed money into the pockets of those who work hard to earn a livable income for themselves and their families. The minimum wage hasn’t been increased since 2009, and it’s about time we get to work fixing that.

 

Property Taxes

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Ways and Means heard testimony on HB 2. While we are glad that the process set by Chairman Burrows is transparent and is not being rushed like its Senate companion was, localities in Texas have serious concerns about the bill. We share some of those same concerns. HB 2 does not lower property taxpayers’ bills, while ultimately tying the hands of our cities and counties.

 

As the Legislature considers even more bills in the coming days, House Democrats will keep in mind what Texans truly want the Legislature to address, and stay focused on providing real solutions for all Texans.

Update: health care and family separations at the border

The Dallas Morning News has published an incredible, heart-breaking series titled “Pain & Profit” that details how the state’s managed care system is failing Texas’ most fragile citizens. The key summary, from their report:

 

We reviewed more than 70,000 pages of documents, including patient medical records and material that state officials and the companies tried to keep secret. We crunched financial and insurance-industry data and talked to hundreds of families, doctors and policy experts.

 

We found that state officials are protecting a booming multibillion-dollar industry while the most vulnerable Texans wait in vain for wheelchairs, psychiatric drugs and doctors’ appointments. That system has failed countless disabled adults and sick children who can’t advocate for themselves.

 

To date, they have released three parts of their series:

 

Part 1: The preventable tragedy of D’ashon Morris

Part 2: As patients suffer, companies profit

Part 3: Texas pays companies billions for ‘sham networks’ of doctors

 

The HDC will continue tracking these articles and will provide additional information that comes to light about what’s gone so wrong with so many aspects of managed care for fragile Texans.

 

Update: HDC Responds to Gov. Abbott’s School Safety Report

 

Last week, Gov. Abbott revealed his policy response to the tragic Santa Fe High School shootings. Though some of his proposals will gain bipartisan support, others – including the expansion of the school marshal program while simultaneously reducing the training requirements to become a marshal – are highly troublesome.

 

The most substantial fixes we need — more counselors, school facility upgrades, and additional support for our students — require funding, something Gov. Abbott largely glossed over in his proposal. Look for a more detailed analysis of his proposal from the HDC later this week, as we continue the discussion on how best to increase the investment in our local schools in order to keep our kids safe.

 

Quotes from the Ending the Separation of Families Events Last Week:

 

San Antonio rally: 

Rep. Bernal: “There is no strand of faith that makes what’s going on OK.”

Houston rally:

Rep. Wu: “This our civil rights moment. We are going to be on the right side of history. We will not let families be separated and treated like cattle.”

Houston rally:

Rep. Alvarado: “People proclaim to be pro-family when it comes to certain issues. Si estas con nuestras familias, you will end this ridiculous family separation policy that is inhumane.”

Austin rally:

Rep. Rodriguez: “It is bigotry and it is wrong. How we treat these children is not an immigration issue. It is a moral issue, and separating families is wrong.”

Texas House votes to extend life of maternal mortality task force

Legislation that would extend the life of a state task force studying Texas’ high maternal morbidity rates was tentatively approved by the Texas House late Sunday night.

Under Senate Bill 17, the state’s Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity would continue its work until 2023. The task force, launched by the Legislature in 2013, found that between 2011 and 2012, 189 Texas mothers died less than a year after their pregnancies ended, mostly from heart disease, drug overdoses and high blood pressure.

To continue reading this story go to the Texas Tribune.

Amid divisive issues, Texas lawmakers find unity in fighting pregnancy-related deaths

State Rep. Shawn Thierry told her House colleagues that she feared she would die when she gave birth, feeling as though her heart would “beat right out of me,” as she asked them to approve legislation Monday to extend and expand the role of a maternal mortality task force.

“No woman who chooses to bear life in Texas should ever do so in exchange for her life,” said Thierry, D-Houston, who read the names of mothers who had died as she dedicated her bill to their memory.

The House voted unanimously for her bill and other legislation to keep the task force operating and to give it direction for additional research into stemming the number of Texas women whose deaths are related to pregnancy and childbirth. Among its provisions, Thierry’s bill would direct a look at the disproportionately high rate of deaths among women who, like her, are African-American.

To read the rest of this story, please  visit the San Antonio Express-News.

To prevent maternal mortality, keep studying and take the Medicaid (Op-ed)

Failure to extend the state’s Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity is not an option. Texas’ maternal death rate nearly doubled from 2010 to 2014 and is third-world high.

A proposal to extend the task force until 2023 is the one bill that must pass this special session of the Legislature, other than the so-called sunset bill extending the lives of key state agencies that forced the session in the first place.

To continue reading this story go to the El Paso Times.

Editorial: Restore Medicaid therapy funds

A young Houstonian named Ky’ Zohn has been waiting eight months for physical therapy, which he needs for his balance and mobility. The four-year-old was born with delayed development, and his family is seeking therapy so he can learn to walk without falling.

The family is willing to go to a clinic or have home care but his mother says she can’t find an available therapist in Houston’s Medicaid program, the federal-state insurer for the disadvantaged and disabled.

Her son is not alone. A growing number of vulnerable children have reduced options for therapy, following the Legislature’s 2015 gutting of the rates that Medicaid uses to reimburse therapists.

To continue reading this story go to the Houston Chronicle.