McALLEN, March 5 - A community organizer says Gov. Rick Perry’s opposition to expanding Medicaid could be based on the fact that tens of thousands of people who would benefit live south of I-10 and are Hispanic.
Emi Zuniga, who heads the Texas Organizing Project in the Rio Grande Valley, spoke about the influence of ethnicity and race in health care funding in an interview with the Guardian at a pro-Medicaid news conference in McAllen on Monday morning.
“I think race may be playing a large part in Governor Perry’s opposition to Medicaid for adults,” Zuniga said. “Many of the people who will benefit from expanding Medicaid live south of I-10. Our people are south of I-10.”
Perry has said he opposes Medicaid because he does not want more mandates being imposed in states by the federal government. He has called “Obamacare” a “power grab.” He has said Medicaid is broken and needs fixing. According to the governor, expanding Medicaid would be like “adding a thousand people to the Titanic.”
Zuniga responded that Perry should visit South Texas and witness the plight of its residents. She said he would soon see that a huge percentage of the population cannot afford private health insurance. She pointed out 42 percent of residents living in Hidalgo County lack health insurance.
Zuniga said Texas is now a minority-majority run state and the days when Latinos, including those living along the border, could be ignored are long gone.
“Our people have been without a voice for a very long time. That is going to change. The last election proved Latinos make up a very large minority in the country and we are not going to sit back and take it anymore,” Zuniga said.
The news conference, which was held outside El Milagro Clinic in McAllen, was hosted by the RGV Equal Voice Network. The Texas Organizing Project is a member of Equal Voice.
Participants at the news conference pointed to independent studies that show hospitals, doctors and other health care providers in the Rio Grande Valley would receive an additional $600 million to treat adults in an expanded Medicaid program. They also referenced a major rally in support of expanding Medicaid which will be held at the state Capitol on Tuesday morning. Around 120 Equal Voice members will be attending the rally, getting up early to catch a bus at 3 a.m.
Some of those attending the rally from the Valley will tell their own story on why Medicaid should be expanded. Zuniga is slated to attend the rally. She said her father died of complications from diabetes and received healthcare treatment because he was over 65 and thus eligible for Medicaid. She said many others in the Valley are less fortunate.
Zuniga said her mother would like to undergo a test to see if she has breast cancer but cannot do so because she lacks health insurance. “At present, my mother does not qualify for Medicaid but she would qualify with this expansion. There are tens of thousands of hardworking Texans that are being robbed of a quality healthcare system,” Zuniga said.
Zuniga said she hopes minority groups across the state will unite in opposition to Gov. Perry on the issue of expanding Medicaid. “TOP has chapters in Houston and Dallas and there are so many people from Dallas and Houston and here in the Valley who are going to be at the rally at the Capitol. Our people should not die because they cannot figure out if the lump they have is cancer. Or because they have diabetes and have no health insurance,” Zuniga said.
Asked to expand on her thoughts that Gov. Perry could be opposing Medicaid because it will largely benefit Hispanics, Zuniga said: “All I am saying is the question needs to be asked. If a large number of the state population is sick and unable to go vote and they happen to be a minority, then that question needs to be asked. Is Perry denying the money because he really thinks it is the best thing for Texas or because he doesn’t want Latinos to be healthy enough to go vote?”
Ann Williams Cass chairs the RGV Equal Voice Network’s health working group. She said she did not think Perry’s opposition to expanding Medicaid was based on race or ethnicity. “I don’t think so,” Cass said, when asked at the news conference. Cass said 120 Equal Voice members will be attending the rally in Austin. “Our leaders are going to send a strong message to our governor that we support expanded Medicaid,” she said.
Cass believes a more likely explanation for Perry’s opposition to expanding Medicaid is that he is still keen on running for president of the United States and does not want a Republican candidate to outflank him from the Right. “This is him being stubborn. He does not like Obamacare,” Cass said of Perry.
Cass said Perry’s opposition to expanding Medicaid cannot be based on cost because the federal government is paying 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and then 90 percent thereafter. She said that under expanded Medicaid, a family of four with an income of $14 an hour or less would benefit with the adults in that family receiving coverage.
Cass said even conservative economists such as Ray Perryman have said it makes sense to expand Medicaid under the terms of Obamacare. Cass thanked Texas Well & Healthy, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the Center for Public Policy Priorities for helping Equal Voice develop its strategy on health care issues.
Ramona Casas, a community organizer with Project ARISE, said she, too, doubts that Perry’s opposition to expanding Medicaid is based on ethnic considerations. “I do not think he opposes Medicaid because we are Mexicana. Maybe he does not want to spend money but this is our money that we sent to Washington,” Casas said.
Casas said Project ARISE members plan to let Perry know how they feel when they get to Austin. “There are great needs here and we want to present the reality of the border. We need Medicaid. Our people cannot afford private health insurance. It is very difficult for low income families to get the medical attention they deserve. We need this expansion,” Casas said.
Among the groups in Equal Voice that are pushing for Medicaid for adults are the Texas Organizing Project, Project ARISE, Proyecto Azteca, Proyecto Juan Diego, La Unión del Pueblo Entero, the START Center, and the Brownsville Community Center. Officials with El Milagro and the Hope Family Health Center were at the news conference to offer their support to the issue.
The Equal Voice group has been buoyed by recent resolutions passed in support of expanding Medicaid by various governmental entities in the Valley. They include Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, Cameron County Commissioners Court, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.
“We support the efforts to expand Medicaid,” Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia told the Guardian. “Almost every major county, including the Republican-controlled counties, are supporting expansion. It makes absolutely no sense to be against it. Hopefully, the governor will change his mind. There is a tremendous amount of need and it is just wrong to deny our area that medical care.”
Steve Brewer, president of the LRGVDC, agreed. “It is very important for our region because we have so many people that need Medicaid. It is very important. We know it benefits our region and we want to make our region better,” he said.