|HARLINGEN, October 2 - KMBH 88 FM is to shine the spotlight Thursday on South Texas citizens who have fallen into the health insurance Black Hole.
The term Black Hole is used by healthcare officials to refer to the working poor who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for a subsidy in the new healthcare marketplace. In Cameron, Hidalgo and Webb counties that could be as many as 64,000 people.
Reporter Mario Muñoz, who presents KMBH’s Closer to Home series, interviewed Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. The interview can be heard Thursday morning at 6:50, 7:50 and 8:50.
“The problem that we are facing in Texas is that we have probably about a million U.S. citizens, Texas adults, who are uninsured today and have incomes just below the federal poverty line. If we do not accept this federal Medicaid expansion money that is part of the Affordable Care Act then starting in January we are going to find ourselves in a situation where the folks just below the federal poverty line will not get any help and the folks just above it will qualify for sliding scale help with their premiums,” Dunkelberg told Muñoz.
“So, we are looking at a situation where you literally could have a mom with two kids who is living on $18,000 a year in January not able to get coverage for herself while her neighbor who is also a mom with two kids but is living on $20,000 a year can get a really generous taxpayer-funded subsidy for her insurance in the new marketplace. That just doesn’t seem right to us and it doesn’t seem very smart either.”
Asked how many people fall into the black hole, Dunkelberg said: “Best numbers we have from the U.S. Census is we are looking at around one million U.S. adults and we are talking about U.S. citizen adults who are uninsured today and who are below the poverty line. Those are the folks we are concerned about and who, come January, we do not have a coverage option for them because our Governor and our state Legislature again did not essentially flip the switch on the Medicaid part of the Affordable Care Act.”
Asked by the Guardian how many of those one million citizens live in South Texas, Dunkelberg said: “Rough estimate for Cameron, Hidalgo and Webb counties is that, conservatively, about 94,000 would have gotten Medicaid (up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level) and about two thirds of those, or 64,000, are below poverty line and in the Texas Coverage Gap.”
Dunkelberg pointed out that U.S. citizen adults (under 65) with incomes below the poverty line (below $958 a month for one person or $1,963 a month for a family of four in 2013) may lose out on health insurance (unless pregnant, disabled, or extremely poor and taking care of children). She said the Affordable Care Act would have covered these adults, but the state Legislature chose to exclude these Texans. Unfortunately, she said, these uninsured Texas adults cannot enroll in Medicaid or CHIP, and they cannot get help to reduce the cost of insurance in the new health insurance marketplace.
Dunkelberg told KMBH that CPPP and other progressive groups have set up a website to highlight the Texas Coverage Gap or the Black Hole. The address is: TexasLeftMeOut.org. The website has information on where to get healthcare coverage and ideas on how to change opinions in Texas so that the Legislature does, eventually, take the Medicaid expansion money.
The decision not to expand Medicaid was taken by Gov. Rick Perry and the state Legislature earlier this year. By rejecting a key provision in the Affordable Care Act, Texas will lose out on roughly $100 million from the federal government between 2014 and 2019. Texas would only have had to kick in about $6 billion.
Rachel Udow, a grant writer with MHP, is one of those in the health arena that uses the phrase Black Hole to describe those who will miss out on Medicaid and the new healthcare marketplace. Udow has praised groups like Valley Interfaith and the RGV Equal Voice Network for working on the issue. MHP is the top marketplace navigator group in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Groups like Valley Interfaith are well positioned to address the Medicaid Expansion issue, whereas our focus is on the marketplace. We recognize the Black Hole situation and we are glad that there are groups like Valley Interfaith and Equal Voice that are working on that issue,” Udow told the Guardian.
Editor’s Note: KMBH 88 FM, the NPR station in the Rio Grande Valley, is a media partner of the Rio Grande Guardian. To listen to Mario Muñoz's the full interview with CPPP’s Anne Dunkelberg, tune in to KMBH 88 FM’s Closer to Home on Thursday morning at 6:50, 7:50, and 8:50.