SAN BENITO, RGV – The large number of Rio Grande Valley residents who signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is evidence the Texas Senate should have voted to expand Medicaid, says a top local healthcare advocate.

Jose Medrano is leading Enroll America’s campaign to sign up residents for health insurance along the Texas-Mexico border region. He and his team are having some success. Analysis by Enroll America shows that more than 56,000 residents in Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy counties enrolled or re-enrolled for health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace during ACA’s second open enrollment period, which ran from November 15, 2014, to February 22, 2015.

Medrano said he was “left dismayed” earlier this week when the Republican-controlled Texas Senate voted “no” to an amendment from state Sen. Rodney Ellis that would have permitted Texas to draw down tens of millions of additional healthcare dollars from the federal government.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis
State Sen. Rodney Ellis

According to an economic analysis by the Perryman Group, Texas would see a return of $1.29 for every $1 spent on Medicaid expansion, and the burden on local governments would be reduced by $1.21 for every dollar the state spent on expanding the program. Perryman further estimates that Medicaid expansion would generate over 300,000 Texas jobs per year on average over ten years, even netting out the impact of diverting the state’s required matching contribution.

Medrano pointed out that it is those citizens who earn too little to qualify for coverage under ACA that would benefit from Medicaid expansion. Such citizens are referred to as those in the “coverage gap” or the “black hole,” because they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for health insurance under ACA.

“It is an interesting response to the continued need for healthcare coverage, as proven by the increased numbers of local consumers who entered into the ACA Marketplace in the Rio Grande Valley alone, that the Texas Senate should reject Medicaid expansion,” Medrano said.

“Enroll America will continue to educate, engage, include and lead the uninsured to the healthcare marketplace where they can select from a range of options available, which could include a subsidy that will help that consumer pay for their healthcare.”

Enroll America analyzed new data from the Department of Health and Human Services to obtain these figures on how many people in the Rio Grande Valley are enrolled for coverage under ACA:

*    Hidalgo County: 34,920 (65 percent increase)
*    Cameron County: 18,083 (73 percent increase)
*    Starr County: 2,907 (70 percent increase)
*    Willacy County: 741 (83 percent increase)

“It is great news that 56,651 residents in a four-county area got covered through the health insurance marketplace,” said Mimi Garcia, Texas state director for Get Covered America. “The Get Covered America campaign emphasized reaching the uninsured in these counties in part because we knew that there were thousands of residents who needed information to enroll in quality, affordable health coverage. But we know that our work is far from over. We’re going to continue working with our invaluable partners like VAIL to reach as many uninsured Texans as possible and make health coverage a way of life in Texas.”

Garcia said that leading up to and during the second enrollment period, Get Covered America worked with the uninsured across Texas to help thousands of uninsured residents understand their options and make an enrollment decision that fit their needs and budget. Since the close of the first open enrollment period, staff and volunteers reached out to more than 116,562 consumers and held more than 2,479 outreach and education events aimed at maximizing the number of Texans that enroll in affordable health coverage, Garcia said.

The dataset released by HHS breaks down the total number of sign-ups on the federally-facilitated marketplace during open enrollment by ZIP code. Enroll America then used that data to determine how many individuals enrolled by county.

Medrano said that although the open enrollment period ended on February 15, many Texans still have the opportunity to get covered now. He pointed out that last month the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a new special enrollment period running through April 30 for consumers who were unaware of how the fine for not having coverage affected them. Medrano said that to be eligible, consumers must attest that they first became aware of the implications of the fine after the end of open enrollment in connection with preparing their 2014 taxes and have paid the fine for not having health coverage in 2014.

Mimi Garcia
Mimi Garcia

“Life changing events such as getting married, having a baby, or moving to a different coverage area among others, may also qualify Texans to enroll through a special enrollment period during the year. To see if you qualify for a special enrollment period, simply visit the HHS screener and answer a few questions,” Medrano said.

To find if they are eligible during the special enrollment period Texas citizens can schedule an appointment with an enrollment assister by visiting the Get Covered Connector, at

Sen. Ellis, D-Houston, said he was sad to see his amendment go down to defeat on a vote that broke along party lines. Democratic senators voted for the amendment. Republican senators voted against it.

“Everyone has the right to affordable health care. The contents of one’s wallet should not determine the quality of one’s care. When Texas leads the nation in the percent of our population that’s uninsured, it’s very disappointing that my colleagues have once again passed on an opportunity to provide a million Texans access to affordable health care,” Ellis said.

“Expanding Medicaid simply secures aid for what local taxpayers pay for already: the costs of uninsured Texans who show up in our doctor’s offices and emergency rooms. Accepting the $100 billion in federal funding to address the gap of affordable healthcare options to our constituents is just common sense. It will reduce local property taxes, create jobs, and provide affordable and quality health care to a million Texans.”

Ellis pointed out that Billy Hamilton Consulting projects economic activity from Medicaid expansion would generate an estimated 231,000 jobs by 2016, and several times that number in later years.

Editor’s Note: In the main picture accompanying this story Jose Medrano, coordinator of Enroll America’s work on the Texas-Mexico border, is pictured being interviewed at the headquarters of La Unión del Pueblo Entero in San Juan, Texas.