Health care advocates from across Texas rallied at the state Capitol on Monday, calling on state lawmakers to maintain Medicaid funding and criticizing national Republicans for their plans to repeal the Obama administration’s health care policies.
The advocacy group Cover Texas Now, which organized the rally, said about 1,000 people from around Texas signed up for a lunch on the Capitol grounds later Monday and then for meetings with individual lawmakers. Participants carried signs ranging from the direct, such as “My Medicaid = My Life,” to the more creative, such as “The News Isn’t Fake — Your Replacement Plan Is.”
Republicans in Washington released their plan to unravel and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, late Monday, after the rally had ended.
Those who attended Monday’s event urged state lawmakers to protect funding for Medicaid, a program they described as critical to the health of many Texas seniors, children and disabled people. Factions within the state GOP currently are wrestling over whether to tap the state’s “rainy day fund” in part to plug a nearly $1 billion hole in Texas’ contribution to the federal Medicaid program.
“If people don’t show up (to rallies) and call their legislators and congressmen, they’re going to lose what precious health care they’ve got,” said David Wittie, an Austin resident who had polio as a child and who now uses a wheelchair. Wittie, 61, attended the event with his caregiver, Robin Hoffpauir, and said the state program that helps him pay Hoffpauir isn’t currently on the chopping block, but he fears it will be given the state’s budget constraints.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, spoke during the rally and criticized Republicans for considering cuts to Medicaid, at either the national or state level.
“The idea that (Medicaid) would be slashed, and we would balance the budget on the backs of these poor individuals, is wrong, and we need to keep saying it’s wrong,” Doggett said.
State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, who chairs the Texas House Appropriations Committee, recently filed a bill that among other things would use about $930 million from the state’s “rainy day” reserve to cover a shortfall in the state’s contribution to the federal Medicaid program for the current two-year budget cycle.
The move has set up a confrontation with some in the GOP who are opposed to tapping the fund, including the newly formed Texas Freedom Caucus, a group of a dozen of the most conservative state lawmakers. A caucus spokesman said none of its members was available for comment Monday.
State lawmakers also have yet to agree on a plan to pay for the Medicaid program for the 2018-19 budget cycle. The state Senate’s budget proposal for the 2018-19 cycle — Senate Bill 1 filed by Senate Finance Committee chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound — doesn’t factor in Medicaid enrollment growth or the increasing cost of health care, all but guaranteeing it will underfund the program unless there are policy changes. Through a spokesperson, Nelson repeated a comment she made last week vowing to work with “Zerwas and the House to address our supplemental needs,” but she didn’t address Medicaid or health care specifically.
Among other things, the Obamacare replacement plan unveiled by national Republicans on Monday calls for a per-capita cap on the amount of federal funding states will get for their Medicaid programs. Doggett and other speakers who attended the rally at the Capitol said such caps will result in reduced access to health care for people who need it.
According to the Texas Tribune, the rate of uninsured Texans fell to 17.1 percent in 2015, continuing a steady decline since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act but still the highest uninsured rate in the country.
Scrapping such gains makes no sense, said Ian Clarke, an Austin entrepreneur who spoke during Monday’s rally. He said he would have had trouble starting his company, Stacks, a year ago if he and his employees hadn’t had the option of buying health care for themselves on the Affordable Care Act marketplace.
Access to health care “is making it easier for people to take risks, and that is a key part of capitalism,” said Clarke, whose company is devising a mobile app that provides on-the-go financial advice. “It would have been much more difficult to start this company without the ACA.”