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Healthcare Advocates Urge Perry: Don’t Throw Texas Under the Bus

September 21, 2012

HOUSTON – They say Gov. Rick Perry is "throwing them under the bus" by refusing to accept billions of federal dollars to expand Texas' Medicaid program under an optional provision of Obamacare. Hundreds of advocates and protestors from around the state are expected to rally at the Capitol this afternoon (Friday), hoping to win a face-to-face meeting with the governor. And they have some tough questions to pose, according to Durrel Douglas of the Texas Organizing Project.

"We want to know: if you're turning away this option, what is your plan? And how do you plan to fill this gaping hole, where there are millions of people who don't have health care? Because throwing two million Texans under the bus is not the way to go."

Expanding Medicaid was supposed to be one of the key ways to cover low-income Americans under the Affordable Care Act. But when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this spring that states could not be forced into adopting the provision, leaders in some states - including Texas - quickly announced they would reject the new federal assistance, both on principle, and out of fear that they might have to pick up the tab in future years.

Texas has the lowest rate of health insurance coverage in the nation, with almost a quarter of its residents uninsured. Research shows that figure could be cut in half with expanded Medicaid, and that minorities will disproportionately feel the loss in states that don't participate.

Gladys Vasquez, 50, a home-health aide in Houston, will attend the Austin rally. Earning $9 an hour, she says she can't afford insurance or doctor visits.

"I am working 45 or 50 hours a week, and when I get sick, I don't like to see the doctor, because if I don't die from the sickness, I die when I see the bill for the doctor."

She says she'll be losing income from 12 hours of work in order to travel to the Capitol, but feels she is representing many friends and neighbors who also dream of someday having health coverage.

Douglas points out that the feds will pay for the Medicaid expansion for three years, after which states will be responsible for up to ten percent. It's a great deal, he says - and Texas should reconsider it.

"When you have a governor of a state that has the worst health care in the nation, that tells Gladys Vasquez, 'I'm sorry, these options that would expand healthcare for my state: I don't want them, for my political reasons. You're on your own.' That's insensitive, illogical, not fair."

Some states have signaled they will ask the government if they can adopt the expansion plan, but only partially. And some Texas counties are investigating whether they can sign up on their own if the state turns down the program.

Coordinated rallies are planned today in Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas, culminating in the Austin event at the State Capitol. Details are online at organizetexas.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX