AUSTIN, February 22 - At a rally at the state Capitol, Valley Interfaith leader Rosalie Tristan gave two personal healthcare stories to highlight the need for expanding Medicaid.
Tristan, who lives in Raymondville, spoke of her 55-year-old brother, David Contreras, a husband and father of two. He has a tumor on the back of his head the size of a melon. He has been told he has to come up with $10,000 in order to see a doctor. He does not have $10,000.
He has also been told he cannot go to the emergency room of his local hospital until the body tissue bursts. He earns too much to qualify for Medicaid.
“I am concerned for my 55-year-old brother, David. David has a wife and two children. He has developed a mass behind the back of his head the size of a melon,” Tristan said, at the Medicaid expansion rally. “His doctor tells him he needs surgery but he cannot afford it. Medicaid denied him because he works. He is one of thousands in Texas who will fall in the cracks with no healthcare coverage.”
Tristan also spoke about her close friend, Rosie Puga. They went to school together. They fought successfully together a few years ago to get more funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Puga died of cancer at the age of 52.
“Just last year my close friend Rosie - 52 years old - became ill and did not go to the doctor because she did not have healthcare coverage. By the time she got to the doctor he said you have six months left,” Tristan told the audience at the Medicaid expansion rally.
“Rosie died several months ago and left a 12 year old son. We are here to tell Governor Perry and our legislators we don’t want more mothers dying. We don’t want to lose brothers. We want you to do something. We don’t want you to do nothing.”
Tristan told the Guardian that under an expanded Medicaid, Puga would have been able to get treatment earlier and may have lived. She said under an expanded Medicaid her brother would be getting treatment now.
Tristan said she and other Valley Interfaith leaders will be returning to the Rio Grande Valley to urge commissioners in Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy counties to pass resolutions in support of expanding Medicaid. “Expanding Medicaid would be incredibly beneficial for the Rio Grande Valley. More sick people would receive treatment,” Tristan said.
Already, El Paso, Dallas and Travis counties have passed resolutions in favor of expanding Medicaid. Bexar County is expected to pass a resolution on Feb. 26 and Harris and Tarrant counties are expected to follow suit soon afterwards. Clay Jenkins, the county judge for Dallas, Sam Briscoe, the county judge for Travis, and Nelson Wolff, the county judge for Bexar, spoke in favor of Medicaid expansion at the rally.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) has crunched numbers based on Health and Human Services Commission data. It believes the four-county Valley would get an additional $666,970,814 in additional funds, if Medicaid is expanded. The analysis can be found on the CPPP’s Medicaid County Data Report. Click here to read the report.
“Hidalgo County alone would get $404 million every year over the next four years in additional federal funds. It is a staggering amount,” CPPP Associate Director Anne Dunkelberg told the Guardian.
Texas Impact and Methodist Healthcare Ministries commissioned former Texas Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton to analyze the impact of expanding Medicaid.
Hamilton’s report says that under the best case scenario, with every eligible person enrolled in Medicaid, state Sen. Eddie Lucio’s District 27 would get an additional $1.3 billion in federal funds between 2014 and 2017.
Hamilton’s report says that under the best case scenario, with every eligible person enrolled in Medicaid, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa’s District 20 would get an additional $1.4 billion in federal funds between 2014 and 2017.
Hamilton’s report says that under the best case scenario, with every eligible person enrolled in Medicaid, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s District 21 would get an additional $1.2 billion in federal funds between 2014 and 2017.
Click here to read the Hamilton report.
“Both our report and Hamilton’s report use HHSC numbers,” Dunkelberg said. “Hamilton’s report looks beyond direct Medicaid spending and considers all the other economic benefits. With those dollars flowing through the economy, Hamilton looks at how much additional tax revenue is generated at the county level, and the costs that are offset.”
State Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, spoke at the Medicaid expansion rally, which was organized by the Industrial Areas Foundation. He was introduced by Tristan. Lucio said that in order to expand Medicaid in Texas under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government was offering to pay $99 for every one dollar the state kicks in. He said this was the best form of investment he had ever heard of.
“I love the area of the state I am from but we are struggling when it comes to healthcare. We have one of the highest uninsured rates, one of the worst doctor-to-patient ratios, and are still trying to do our best to build ourselves out of poverty,” said Lucio, a Democrat from San Benito. “Let us stand together as Democrats and Republicans and understand how important this is for the future of our state.”
Many Democratic senators and representatives spoke the rally but no Republicans. A Dallas area interfaith leader told the Guardian privately that many Republican legislators are in support of expanding Medicaid but are afraid of upsetting Gov. Rick Perry. Perry has said he will not allow Medicaid to be expanded in Texas. Some Democratic lawmakers have filed bills to allow counties and hospitals to bypass Perry and secure the federal funds themselves.
State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, a Democrat from Laredo, spoke at the rally. Referencing those who lack healthcare insurance, Peña Raymond cited a famous line from President Lincoln’s first inaugural address – “Appealing to our better angels.” He urged reporters to go to Gov. Perry and tell him “there but for the grace of God go I.”
Peña Raymond pointed out the Affordable Care Act has over 200 amendments from Republican legislators. “That is a bipartisan bill. This is an American bill. This is a bill that needs to be implemented in the state of Texas and every other state in this country because it is the right thing to do,” Peña Raymond said. “We are a great country. We are a great state but we can be greater. That is who we are. We take care of our folks. We all deserve to have healthcare, every child, every person; every senior.”
State Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, also spoke at the rally. He said Maverick County is one of the poorest counties, not just in Texas but in the entire country, and therefore needed Medicaid expanded. He said he would take the message to his House colleagues that people across the state want Medicaid expanded. “It is not a Democrat issue, it is not a Republican issue, it is a human being issue, it is a Texas issue,” Nevárez said.
The other border lawmakers to speak at the rally were state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, and state Reps. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso, and Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen.
Ann Cass, chair of the RGV Equal Voice Network, told the Guardian her group is hoping to persuade the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, the Valley’s council of government, to pass a resolution in support of expanding Medicaid at its next board meeting on Feb. 28.
“The RGV Equal Voice Network is working to get supportive resolutions from Hidalgo County and Cameron County as well as the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council,” Cass said.