Texas is suffering a health crisis. And no, we’re not just talking about the pandemic.
Texans are more likely to be uninsured than residents in any other state. It's a problem that affects Texans of all backgrounds and every corner of the state — the vast majority of uninsured Texans are U.S. citizens.
Rural Texas — the Panhandle especially — has been hit hard by this health crisis. When patients have no insurance, health providers bear the cost. Since 2010, more rural hospitals have closed in Texas than anywhere else, and many more are at risk of shuttering. Each closure wipes out jobs, reduces sales tax revenue, and makes it harder to keep our loved ones healthy.
At Panhandle Community Services, we’ve spent decades serving people living in poverty. We’ve seen first-hand how harmful this health crisis is.
Our 2018 Community Needs Assessment showed that 14 counties reported a serious unmet need for mental health care, substance abuse treatment, or affordable prescriptions. Our region cannot afford to lose another health provider. All Texans, in every part of Texas, deserve better health and better access to care — and that starts by making sure they have health insurance.
Fortunately, the Texas Legislature has an opportunity, right now, to address this crisis head-on. Lawmakers are considering a bipartisan bill to expand health care coverage. The bill would pull down federal funding to cover 90% of costs and insure more than one million additional Texans — including child care workers, janitors, cooks, and other low-wage workers who typically have no affordable health insurance options.
The impact here would be colossal. According to a Texas A&M University report, this Texas-specific solution would make health insurance available for more than 14,000 Panhandle residents and bring in over $80 million each year in new federal dollars to our 26 counties. And the COVID-19 Recovery Act, recently passed by Congress, offers another $3 billion over two years statewide if Texas increases health coverage.
Polls show that 69% of Texans support greater health coverage, which would also lower unpaid hospital bills. And multiple studies show that increasing health coverage in this way would actually save money in the state budget. We must take advantage of this tremendous opportunity.
Between the pandemic, this winter’s energy catastrophe, and our ongoing challenges with school funding, broadband access, and infrastructure, the Panhandle has had a tough year. Expanding health coverage will help people in immediate, tangible ways. Families will be healthier. Texans will save money. And our state will have new resources to help meet its pressing needs.
Thirty-eight other states, both red and blue, have increased coverage and, as a result, improved their citizens’ well-being, kept their hospital doors open, and strengthened their economies. Texans deserve the same.
This year, legislators have another shot — their best one yet — to address our health crisis by passing a Texas-specific solution. They need to take it.
Panhandle Community Services
In the current 87th Texas Legislature, House Bill 3871, the "Live Well Texas" bill, would expand Medicaid eligibility to low-income, adult Texans beyond those currently covered. At present, eligibility in Texas for coverage by the joint federal/state program is limited to those who are pregnant, responsible for a child 18 or younger, blind, disabled, or over 65 and who meet certain income requirements. The bill has been referred to the House Human Services Committee. The Senate version, Senate Bill 117, has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. An effort to achieve the aims of the bills through an amendment to the state budget failed last week. The 87th Legislature ends May 31.