How Obamacare is helping millions of Texans

Three years in, a progressive health care law is helping Texans have better financial security, healthier lives and a better outlook. Some of our elected leaders, however, continue to try to block the Affordable Care Act and distort facts about what lies ahead, especially when it comes to what happens with Medicaid under the law.

The truth is Obamacare is already helping millions of Texans. It’s keeping big insurance companies with previously loose regulations from ripping people off—preventing caps on your benefits and steep rate hikes, for example—so that Americans are saving $2.1 billion per year. Besides holding insurers accountable, the law extends the promise of health care to more people. Patients with pre-existing conditions, young adults who can stay on their parents’ health plan and consumers, including seniors on Medicare, needing a break on costs related to preventive care and certain prescriptions all have benefited because of the ACA.

But the law’s biggest changes come next year. That’s when Texas, the state with the highest rate of uninsured adults and the highest number of uninsured children in the country, has the most to gain.

Long before the Affordable Care Act, too many employers were finding it hard to offer families coverage. Fewer employers offered health insurance every year from 2000 to 2011, in every state but one: Massachusetts. There, in the place whose health reform approach became a model for Obamacare, employers are more likely to cover workers.

Succeeding in employer coverage for more working Texans, assuring more people have the health care they need, and, yes, saving society costs, all require moving forward with health reform. (Opponents rarely mention that repealing the law would cost $109 billion over a decade, while leaving it on the books reduces the deficit.)

If Texas fully implements this law—including accepting federal dollars to cover more hard-working, low-income families on Medicaid—three-quarters of our 6 million uninsured would qualify for either tax credits or Medicaid. For many, affordable health care would be within reach for the very first time.

Later this year, that will be the case for many middle-income Texans (earning roughly $24,000-$92,000 a year for a family of four), who will receive subsidies to purchase private coverage in an online health insurance marketplace. Prices will be far better than individual health plan offerings today. The Kaiser Family Foundation found 4 out of 5 people with that coverage are likely to pay less next year for comparable insurance.

Nearly all who earn less than that threshold for marketplace subsidies are working Texans in poverty. They, too, will have an affordable health care option—but only if our state agrees to extend Medicaid for them. Medicaid already helps millions of kids, seniors and Texans with disabilities get care they need. Health reform was designed so that all states have every reason to approve an opportunity to cover low-income workers, too: the federal government picks up the full tab for the extension for three years and at least 90 percent of the cost every year after that.

On the other hand, refusing to accept this funding would leave Texas employers on the hook to pay higher federal tax penalties as a result of the state’s position. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service estimates those costs would be as high as $299-$448 million per year. Moody’s credit agency has also put states like Texas on notice, noting that local hospitals and communities will pay more if Medicaid isn’t there to cover the 1.5 million Texans who qualify for it under the ACA. That means failure is imminent and expensive to taxpayers if Texas does not expand Medicaid.

Chambers of commerce, local governments, hospitals and groups throughout Texas all say it’s time for our state do the right thing and accept the funding to cover more Texans on Medicaid. This is an opportunity to meet people’s needs, do right by employers and put our state on firmer financial footing—something we should all agree is right for Texas.

Written by: Keilah A. Jacques, CitySquare Public Policy Coordinator and a partner in the Texas Well and Healthy Campaign.

This op-ed ran today in the Dallas Morning News.

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