BROWNSVILLE, RGV – It’s vitally important that every Rio Grande Valley resident have access to quality affordable health care.

That’s why I highly encourage my constituents to know their options under the new health care law and enroll at The deadline to get covered is March 31.

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, created a marketplace through which any consumer may purchase subsidized health care. I fear, however, that too few realize the limited time they have to enroll. While more than 200 million Texans have already selected a marketplace plan, that number hardly compares to the more than six million estimated to be uninsured.

People who fail to enroll on time won’t have another chance until November. But by then they may have to pay a penalty on their income taxes—as much as $95 per adult.

Eddie Lucio, Jr., es el senador estatal del Distrito 27.
Eddie Lucio, Jr., es el senador estatal del Distrito 27.

This penalty seems particularly unfair for individuals that fall within the so-called “coverage gap,” that is those who make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid, but still too little to qualify for subsidized insurance.

These individuals are in the gap through no fault of their own, but rather are victims of the fallout from a U.S. Supreme Court decision which determined states may chose not to expand Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare. Empowered, our state leadership chose to keep more than one million needy Texans from accessing coverage.

During the last legislative session, I proudly co-authored a bill to expand Medicaid eligibility in the state. To me, this plan just made fiscal sense. Because the federal government would pay no less than 90 percent of the cost of expansion, for a $15 billion investment spread over a decade, Texas could have received $100 billion in matching funds.

In the Rio Grande Valley—the poorest region the country—the Legislature’s decision not to expand Medicaid is heartbreaking. To be clear, even with expanded Medicaid eligibility, we’d still only be serving the neediest of our working poor; to qualify a family of four could still make not more than $23,550. Further, according to a February 2013 report by former Texas demographer Ray Perryman, Medicaid expansion could have boosted Cameron County’s economy by $7 billion over the decade, and Hidalgo County’s by more than $12 billion. We also would have benefited from less uncompensated care in area hospitals and increased worker productivity.

Determining coverage under the health care law can be confusing. Nevertheless, it is imperative that all uninsured consumers navigate the system. For example, for those who do fall into the coverage gap, it’s important to know if they qualify for a “hardship waiver” exempting them from paying an income tax penalty.

Critical enrollment information is easily accessible in the Rio Grande Valley, and there are several location organizations trained to help you navigate the process. You may schedule an appointment at Migrant Health Promotions-Salud by going to their offices at 437 S. Texas Blvd., Weslaco, Texas 78596 or by calling 1-800-461-8394 ext. 1004. You may also receive assistance from Nuestra Clinica Del Valle by calling 956-787-8915, or by calling the Children’s Defense Fund at 956-687-5437.

The goal of the Affordable Care Act was to provide high-quality, affordable health coverage to all Americans. I implore you: don’t get left out; discover your options before March 31.

<I>Eddie Lucio, Jr., is the state Senator for District 27, which is composed of Cameron, Kenedy, Kleberg, Willacy, and part of Hidalgo Counties.</I>