EDINBURG, October 6 - U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, Hidalgo County Judge Garcia and Valley Interfaith are working together to organize a stakeholders meeting to coordinate outreach for and education on the new healthcare marketplace.
The tentative date set for the event is Nov. 8. Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance could be the location. Municipalities, hospitals, school districts, and chambers of commerce will be invited to attended, along with the healthcare navigator organizations that are charged with signing up citizens for affordable healthcare. Hidalgo county commissioners have pledged their attendance.
“The meeting will serve as a one-month ‘check-up’ on the new marketplace in the Rio Grande Valley,” Valley Interfaith leader Eddie Anaya told the Guardian.
Valley Interfaith held a healthcare summit at Edinburg City Auditorium on Sept. 15 that drew 220 people from local churches and schools. Three Hidalgo county commissioners, Joseph Palacios, A.C. Cuellar, and Tito Palacios, as well as state Rep. Sergio Muñoz were present. These public officials said they would join the conversation around the Affordable Care Act that Valley Interfaith, Judge Garcia and Congressman Hinojosa are staging. They also said they would support Valley Interfaith's healthcare civic academy strategy.
Garcia could not attend Valley Interfaith’s summit in Edinburg. However, he sent senior members of his staff, including assistant chief administrator Jaime Longoria, to pass on his message of support for the group’s education and outreach efforts. “I stand with Valley Interfaith in calling for a coordination meeting. This meeting will include municipal leaders, members of the various chambers of commerce, school district officials; members of the healthcare industry and others within Hidalgo County. During this meeting we will discuss tangible strategies for educating our uninsured and underinsured population about how they can access the federal marketplace and enroll in affordable healthcare coverage for their families,” Garcia said. “Viva Valley Interfaith.”
Anaya said Valley Interfaith is “very encouraged” that Congressman Hinojosa, County Judge Garcia and the Hidalgo county commissioners are supportive of Valley Interfaith’s efforts to educate the community and advocate on behalf of those who need healthcare.
“With over a third of the population uninsured, and many of those confused about their eligibility and responsibility to the new law, we feel that it’s extremely important for all sectors of the community to come together and educate those living in the Valley,” Anaya said.
Anaya said Valley Interfaith will be working through churches to help people understand what they need to do and where they need to go to get health insurance. However, in reference to the so-called black hole, he said the group remains “very concerned because many people are going to remain without health coverage.” The black hole refers to those who are slipping through the cracks the Affordable Care Act was supposed to shore up. Those earning too much for Medicaid and too little to qualify for a subsidy in the new marketplace were supposed to get help through the expansion of Medicaid. However, despite a generous financial incentive offered by the federal government, the state Legislature and Governor Rick Perry have so far refused to expand Medicaid.
“We applaud Judge Garcia and Congressman Hinojosa for working with Valley Interfaith to organize this coordinating event and we call on other public officials, businesses, and hospitals to join this conversation,” Anaya added.
Judge Garcia expressed his support for the stakeholder meeting in a letter to the Rev. Jerry Frank, of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in San Juan.
“During this meeting we will discuss tangible strategies for educating our uninsured and underinsured population about how they can access the federal marketplace and enroll in affordable healthcare coverage for their families,” Garcia wrote. “The discussion is one of monumental importance and I hope this is the beginning of some very important dialogues between various sectors of our County and Valley.”
Garcia acknowledged the Affordable Care Act has been a “lightening rod” since it was enacted into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. However, he said whatever the politics are and will continue to be, “quality affordable healthcare insurance for the people of South Texas and the Valley is an important component to having a healthy and vibrant population by any stretch of the imagination.” Therefore, he said, leaders from throughout the region “should band together and assist in educating our uninsured and underinsured population regarding the advantages of enrolling in the healthcare exchange.”
In his letter to Frank, Garcia quoted statistics from the Texas Medical Association. “Texas is the uninsured capital of the United States. More than 6.3 million Texans – including 1.2 million children – lack health insurance.” However, Garcia said, in Hidalgo County things are far worse. “The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the uninsured in Hidalgo County to be 38.9 percent. This translates to over 300,000 persons in the County without health insurance. These are not numbers anyone in public service should be proud of, let alone find acceptable,” Garcia wrote.
Garcia said a lack of access to care not only affects the healthcare system but also places a strain on the region’s educational system, taxpayers and the entire economy of the region. The County’s hospitals estimate that last year they provided upwards of $120 million dollars in uncompensated healthcare, Garcia wrote, in his letter to the Rev. Frank. In addition, Hidalgo County’s indigent healthcare program provided care to over 7,500 residents last year and received well over 16,000 applications for services. The program provided $12.5 million dollars in medical care for uninsured persons living in the County. “It is my hope that the Affordable Care Program will have a positive impact for the residents of Hidalgo County,” Ramon wrote.
Congressman Hinojosa sent this statement about the upcoming healthcare stakeholder meeting: “My staff in the district offices of Edinburg and Seguin has spent the past couple of months working in conjunction with governmental, medical, school districts, businesses and private entities to help bring awareness to our residents on how the Affordable Care Act will work. It is crucial to get the word out on how to participate in the new health program and to learn the benefits that the ACA will afford to many of our residents. We have also been working with local ‘navigators’ who are trained to assist people who have questions on how to use the new health care program. Our goal is to enroll as many qualified participants as possible so that for the first time, many people will be able to have low cost health insurance coverage.”
Rachel Udow, a grant writer for MHP, confirmed her non-profit would be attending the healthcare stakeholder meeting. MHP is the largest navigator group in the Valley and has seven full-time promotoras working to get people signed up for affordable health insurance. “We look forward to participating and hearing what everybody has to say,” Udow said. “We will bring along literature about the marketplace and, if asked to do so, provide an update on our experiences so.”