MISSION, November 13 - It is not enough for GOP leaders to bash the Affordable Care Act – they have to offer an alternative.
That is the view of Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. After meeting privately with hospital CEOs, physicians and campaign supporters in the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday, Abbott said he will roll out a health care plan in the coming weeks that will address access to the healthcare issues facing South Texans.
“We see several concerns in the healthcare arena,” Abbott told the Guardian. Asked what the discussions with Valley health care leaders were focused on, Abbott said: “One, universally, is the pains imposed by Obamacare. They want us to continue our work to try to either dismantle or find solutions for the incredible number of problems imposed by Obamacare.
“The second thing, obviously, with or without Obamacare there is a need to address the healthcare needs of the people down here. We need to work on a plan as the state of Texas to improve access to healthcare to improve access to health insurance and we are always looking for solutions to achieve that.”
Asked when his campaign will issue a plan to address health care issues, Abbott said two weeks ago he rolled out a plan for job creation and now he is discussing a plan to protect individual liberties. “In the weeks to come I am going to be rolling out plans involving education, public safety, as well as other issues like healthcare,” he said.
The campaign fundraiser and luncheon was held at the Ballis Social Event Center in Mission. Among those attending was Dr. Linda Villarreal, an Edinburg physician who serves as secretary of the Texas Medical Association’s board of directors.
Also at the fundraiser were Javier Iruegas, president of Mission Regional Medical Center, and Doug Matney, group vice president of South Texas Health System, which runs McAllen Medical Center. Both Iruegas and Matney are on the Texas Hospital Association’s board of directors.
Iruegas and Matney could not be reached for comment at press time. However, in a written statement, Dr. Dan Stultz, president of the Texas Hospital Association, did comment on Abbott’s remarks.
“Attorney General Abbott’s indication of a looming proposal related to solutions to increasing access to health insurance is encouraging,” Stultz said.
Stultz said the focus of any gubernatorial candidate should be on the consequences of the state’s failure to expand Medicaid or seek a private market alternative similar to efforts in other states.
“By rejecting expansion opportunities and federal funds, the state will leave 1,046,030 Texans – 27 percent of the adult uninsured population -- without access to affordable health insurance,” Stultz said. “Many of these individuals are working poor whose employers do not offer health insurance benefits or for whom the cost of coverage is prohibitive. The consequence will be hospitals, taxpayers and the privately insured continuing to shoulder a heavy share of the costs of care.”
Stultz added that as a state where a quarter of its population is without health insurance, “improving access to affordable health insurance is not only an issue for hospitals and the patients they serve but also for their communities.”
Abbott’s fundraiser and luncheon was co-organized by Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas, a longtime friend. Salinas said Mission loves Abbott because he is pro-life. Introducing Abbott at the luncheon, Salinas said: “For me he is one of the best or the best attorney generals we have ever had. He is a very conservative, a very Christian man.”
Salinas pointed out that Abbott has attended many of his city’s Prayer Breakfasts. “We really care for him in Mission. We understand him and he understands us. We love him because he is pro-life and he is always talking about it. We here in Mission are all very much pro-life, we do care about those things and that is why we get so much involved in our politics. To be able to have candidates like General Abbott, I don't think we have ever had one as strong as he has been for our community. Mission is a very Christian community.”
In his remarks, Abbott pointed out that his wife Cecilia’s family comes from Monterrey, Mexico. He praised immigrants that start out cleaning hotels and work towards the American Dream for their children and grandchildren. Abbott said he has not missed a Mass since 1978. He said that after going to Mass for ten years he knew it was time to convert to the Catholic Church. He said he can “unite with the Valley” through his commitment to faith.
Abbott said that in the past five years he has sadly witnessed efforts by the Obama Administration to “trample the constitution and violate the law, to impose illegal regulations across America.” He pointed out that as attorney general he has filed 30 lawsuits “against Barack Obama and his overreaching federal programs.” The most obvious example, he said, was Obamacare, which, he said, was creating “economic harm to those that can least afford it.” He said many are being forced to buy healthcare they cannot afford. He called Obamacare a “fraud on the people of America.”
Abbott said he wanted the audience to know how important the South Texas region is to him. He said he was on his fifth visit to the Valley since announcing for governor. “I am a frequent visitor to the Valley. As I travel to the Valley I hear the exact same concerns here in this room today but also as well, around the state. The top concerns I hear is about jobs.” Abbott pointed out that Texas is the top state for exports and for doing business. “The truth is Texas is an exceptional state and I am going to be the governor who keeps it that way,” he said.
Discussing education, Abbott pointed out that his wife has been an educator.
“We have seen firsthand the power that education can play in the lives of our children. We have seen children and their lives transformed in ways that their parents could not even dream of because of the pathway of education. I am going to fight and structure an education system that will get more kids into school, get more kids graduating from high school, get more kids going to higher education institutions and going into many of the high paying jobs that are provided right in the great state of Texas,” Abbott said.
“To do that we have to start by ensuring that we have quality teachers and principals in school and then allowing those teachers to teach their students and educate them as opposed to being forced to teach to the test. The second thing we have to do is to realize not all students are the same. We cannot have one cookie cutter approach. We have to be more flexible in the way we educate our kids and give them multiple pathways to find the pathway that will allow them to succeed the best in life.”
Abbott concluded his remarks by talking about the changing demographics in Texas and the threat posed by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. However, he did not mention Davis by name.
Former state Rep. Aaron Peña was in the audience. Abbott said Peña was a “committed conservative, a strong voice for the values that connects the Republican Party and the Hispanic community in the Valley and across the state of Texas.”
Abbott said the ability of Republicans to connect with the Hispanic community “is more urgent now than it has ever been.” He elaborated on this point:
“You all need to understand that we are engaged in a real battle for the future of this state. My opponent on the Democrat side, who need to understand, even though I am told she did not have a very successful trip down to the Valley, you need to understand she is going to have big plaintiff trial lawyer money behind her. The next week or two she is going to be in Washington, D.C., in New York City, in Boston, Mass., raising a lot of money. She will have approximately $40 million to spend in this race.
“Many of you in this room have told me firsthand the issues that she is known for, that she campaigns on, the values she stands for are inconsistent with many of the people in this room and most of the people across this state. The only way we are going to explain that to everyone across the state is if we have the resources to get that message out. That is why events like this lunch are so incredibly important.”
Abbott said he wanted to thank those in the audience for helping his campaign raise the money needed for an advertising campaign that will explain differences between the candidates. He said he will fight for those in the audience and for “the values and principles of the people in the Valley.” He said his opponent is “running against the values and principles” of the people of the Valley.
“With your financial help, with the help of people like you across the state of Texas and with the knowledge that people are latching on to, and that is that if I am elected my wife will be the first Latina in the history of the state of Texas, I know that together we can forge a very winning formula.”
Among the Valley leaders at the fundraiser, in addition to Mayor Salinas, were McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, McAllen Chamber President Steve Ahlenius, Hidalgo County RMA Chairman Dennis Burleson, Palmhurst Mayor Ramiro Rodriguez, La Feria Mayor Steve Brewer, Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal, Sharyland ISD President Fernando Ramirez, Sharyland ISD Vice President Noel Garza, state District Judge Jaime Tijerina, Pharr City Commissioner Aquiles “Jimmy” Garza, UT System Regent Ernie Aliseda, and Hidalgo County Republican Women’s Club President Hilda Garza-DeShazo.
The host committee for the Abbott fundraiser consisted of:
Norberto "Beto" Salinas, Jerry Bell, Calvin Bentsen, Bob Bogguss, Othal Brand, Jr., Dennis Burleson, Kirk Clark, Jim Collins, Hilda Garza-DeShazo, Dr. Tony Falcon, Dr. Fred Farias, III, Jake Fuller, Joe Garcia, Aquiles "Jimmy" Garza, Dr. Scott Helgeson, Dr. Ken Landrum, A. Cynthia Leon, Fred Loya Insurance Group PAC, Rick Morales, Ismael Moran, Sheila Valles Pankratz, Dr. Nolan Perez, Michael Pruneda, Sam Ruiz, Josh Ruiz, Hollis Rutledge, Richard Schumack, Reba Showers, Clark Spikes, Texas Optometric PAC, Bennie & Charles Thompson, Sam Vale, Patti & Terry Van Burkleo, Tom Wingate, and Mark Wright.