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20% of Texans Still Without Health Coverage

20% of Texans Still Without Health Coverage

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was sold to the American public as a way to lower the uninsured rate and increase the quality and affordability of health insurance.  Unfortunately, we see that the ACA has continued to drive up the costs of insurance premiums, which some estimate are around 25 percent higher today than they would be if the law was not in place. As premium costs continue to rise, the administration has done little to address the underlying issues with the law – and this has particularly negative effects on Hispanics in Texas.

Prior to implementation, Texas had the highest rate of residents without health insurance according to a sample survey by Gallup, at 27 percent. While the uninsured rate fell to 20.8 percent in 2015, Texas still remains the state with the highest uninsured rate in the country – and unfortunately, the U.S. Hispanic community remains one of the groups most likely to lack insurance.

In general, individuals and families who fall below the federal poverty level are at a high risk of being uninsured. In 2013, Hispanics in Texas ranked as the demographic most likely to be in poverty. Because Hispanics fall into this category as well, it exacerbates the problem of their relative likelihood to be uninsured.  The unwillingness of the current administration and the healthcare law’s supporters to address the underlying issues only compounds this problem for Hispanics in Texas.

While supporters have pushed Texas to consider expanding Medicaid — an option under the ACA –Texas’ leadership has opposed it, and for good reason. The proposed expansion would likely cost state taxpayers billions in the years ahead, and would continue the failed focus on government-based solutions to our health problems. The experience of other states has highlighted the government’s inability to manage the Medicaid expansion launched under the Affordable Care Act. For example, California had forced hundreds of thousands of low-income applicants to wait for months just to have an application processed. The state of Oregon had also been unable to manage its Medicaid expansion. Many states face possible tax increases to fund Medicaid, as well.  Advocates for low-income families have called for a review of policies that may help reduce the cost of care – empowering families to decide for themselves how best to address their health needs.

While the law was sold to us as a way to increase quality and affordability of healthcare, the sad truth is that Hispanics in Texas continue to struggle to gain affordable health insurance, which has ramifications in every aspect of the quality of our lives.  After nearly two years since the implementation of the ACA, many insurance companies have increased their rates between 25 and 35 percent. With rates increasing, this has put a new, increased burden on Texans to be able to afford health insurance. And more problems remain. According to a news poll, in Texas, only 44 percent of people knew about the existence of the exchanges. In addition to a lack of awareness, job security is now a concern; companies such as Mercy Health announced earlier this year that it would fire over 300 workers due to the mandates related to Obamacare.  As a consequence, Hispanics fear losing their jobs because of the high cost of insurance to small businesses, and it is difficult for many families to obtain affordable coverage. Worse, those who simply cannot afford rising premiums are left to pay a penalty for not obtaining coverage.

Additionally, the focus on insurance coverage ignores an important point: purchasing insurance does not guarantee care. Even with insurance, people must still find a doctor willing to accept it, and cover the cost of copays and deductibles. With the health care law leading to narrower networks and higher deductibles, many families are finding that while they may have insurance coverage, they still can’t get the care they need. In fact, Gallup recently reported that the percentage of Americans satisfied with the cost of health care has fallen significantly since 2009, before the enactment of the health care law.   

If lawmakers truly want to improve healthcare outcomes for those in need – especially Hispanics in Texas — then doubling down on the ACA is clearly not the solution.  Lawmakers, the ACA’s supporters, and this administration must embrace a different approach that addresses costs and availability to help everyone involved.