Rep. Jackson Lee calls for Medicaid expansion

July 30, 2017 GMT

After years of promising to repeal Obamacare and an extended floor show in Washington that ended with the Affordable Care Act’s survival, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said Saturday that it’s time to move forward.

She thanked people for pushing back on repeal efforts and called for Gov. Greg Abbott to expand Texas’ Medicaid program at a news conference at a Third Ward community health center.

“I come today for several reasons. First, to thank the Houston-Harris County community for marching, for coming to town hall meetings and listening to the facts,” the congresswoman said.

Since the Affordable Care Act - known as Obamacare - was enacted in 2010, 31 states and the District of Columbia expanded the eligibility for their Medicaid programs to include people with incomes above the federal poverty level. Millions have found health coverage in large-population states that expanded Medicaid, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. An additional 3 million people were insured in California and 2 million more in New York - which have Democratic governors. More than 600,000 people in both Ohio and Illinois, which have Republican governors, were covered.

More than 1 million Texans were enrolled in Affordable Care Act marketplace health insurance plans in 2016, according to Kaiser. Of them, more than 900,000 received advance premium tax credits that reduce monthly insurance payments, and nearly 650,000 benefited from “cost sharing reductions” or discounts on deductibles, copayments and coinsurance.

Republican efforts, including calls from President Donald Trump, to “repeal and replace” Obamacare stalled in Congress with the demise of last week’s “skinny repeal.” That measure would have left 16 million Americans without health insurance over the next decade, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office.

Jackson Lee said the impact of enacting Trumpcare or ending Obamacare would be devastating for hospitals.

“Organize around a proposal to fix the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “It can be fixed.”

Jackson Lee said she wants to meet with Houston-area health leaders to reach common ground on issues including a single-payer option; reducing premiums and deductibles; facilitating more competition and choice between health plans; and increasing transparency in health care pricing.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Democrat who represents parts of Fort Bend County, stood with Jackson Lee to advocate for a Medicaid expansion.

“Texas leads the nation in the number of uninsured residents,” he said. “Health care, it isn’t a privilege that only the wealthy should have. It is a fundamental right that I believe that everybody should have. ... We will not give up until everybody in Texas has access to affordable health care.”

The news conference was held amid patients waiting for weekend appointments in the small lobby of the Central Care Integrated Health Services clinic on Delano.

Christian Palmer, a 31-year-old Houston paralegal, has been out of work for about a month and is now uninsured. She attended the news conference because she favors a single-payer system.

“As a person who has just lost their employer health care, I am especially paying attention,” said Palmer, who is exploring her options for health insurance while she tries to piece together freelance work. “No one should have to go through all this nonsense and scrambling to secure such basic rights.”