Politics
5:30 pm
Fri March 8, 2013

Agenda Texas: Waiting for Expansion

Agenda Texas as heard on KUT 90.5

A new Gallup poll out this morning says almost 29 percent of Texans don’t have health insurance. That easily puts Texas at the highest percentage of uninsured in the country. And the highest Gallup has ever recorded in Texas.

About a million of those uninsured could find coverage under Medicaid expansion, if Governor Rick Perry were to allow it. So let’s meet a couple of the people hoping he’ll change his mind.

Private Insurance is Out of Reach

Alexandria Garza is a 24-year-old single mother. She’s a part-time employee at a medical research firm and does not qualify for company benefits, though she works close to 40 hours a week. Her health problems make private insurance too expensive.

“I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and supraventricular tachycardia. And I am currently working with doctors to see -- I’ve been showing symptoms of Lupus," Garza said.

Sarah Bates works more than 40 hours a week as a musician and private music teacher. Again, there’s no work-related healthcare available. As for private insurance, Bates couldn't make the math work.

"I just looked at it, and looked at my employment and you know my income was barely above zero once you adjusted for all my business expenses. And I just said, ‘I have to pay rent. I have to eat,'" Bates said.

Using Medicaid Differently

Both agree there are problems with the current Medicaid system. But Bates thinks using that system to argue against expansion doesn’t make sense because expansion wouldn’t add the same kind of people to the roles.

"All of the people who would qualify under this expansion, they’re all people who are in the workforce," Bates said. "We’re not the people who are unemployed and expecting people to feed us.”

Bates said she worked hard at school and now in her job. But for Millennials careers have been slow to get started. One report out today puts Millennial unemployment at 12.5 %

“And health problems don’t wait for your finances to come together. They just don’t," Bates said.

Garza said Medicaid benefits would help stabilize her health. Then she’ll be able to work and earn more. Which will let her get off Medicaid.

“There are people who take advantage of the system. But I think people focus on those people and it hurts the rest of us that will use it effectively," Garza said. "Use it for what it is for, assistance to get back on our feet.”

She said it’s Governor Perry’s job to take care of Texans. And since the expansion would help people, she says, he’s denying some a better quality of life.

Chained to Travis County

If you’ve got health insurance, there’s probably one feature of it that you rely on the most. Maybe it's the co-pay or the prescription benefits.

For Garza and Bates the best part of getting on Medicaid is something you probably haven’t even considered: The ability to leave Travis County.

“I actually fractured my skull on a beach trip," Garza said. "So it took me two days to get back to Travis County to be able to see a doctor and by that time I was bleeding out of my ear.”

Garza had to get back to access her coverage under the Medical Access Program or MAP, which is paid for by Central Health, the Travis County Hospital district. Ill-fated trips to the beach aside, she said there’s an economic problem with staying on MAP too.

“With Medicaid you can go anywhere. Travis County’s blowing up. Living expenses are going up," Garza said. "I can’t move outside Travis County because I lose qualification for MAP.”

Bates gets help from the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. The local charity provides access to healthcare for local musicians. The plan gives people a little more flexibility, you can live in a 50 mile radius of Austin. But Bates said getting on Medicaid could boost her earnings potential.

"As a musician, we just have to go wherever we can get a job. So, you know, I would no longer be so nervous to go down to San Antonio to perform," Bates said.

The real performance is under the dome in Austin. Governor Perry is on his fifth or sixth chorus of “we ain’t taking it,” while some Democrats and Republicans continue to work behind the scenes waiting for a chance to change his tune.

What's your take on Medicaid expansion. Let us know at AgendaTexas@kut.org