EDITORIAL: Healthy option Legislators should consider need for Medicaid expansion

Texas officials have consistently opposed all aspects of the Affordable Care Act, including agreeing to offer Medicaid to more state residents. In fact, this state has filed several lawsuits challenging the ACA, most of them unsuccessful.

In fact, the state might have spent less of our tax money on Medicaid expansion than it has on those lawsuits. More importantly, that money would have provided healthcare coverage and improved the lives of more than 900,000 Texans.

The issue can’t be about the cost, given officials’ willingness to file those costly lawsuits — most of them futile and at least some, as noted in court rulings, frivolous. And it certainly isn’t about defending the best interests of Texas residents, since they are refusing to help nearly 1 million of them attain better access to health care.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, impeding that coverage is especially alarming.

Texas is one of 12 states that have refused to accept the ACA. It’s also the state with the highest number of people, and highest percentage of the population, who do not have health insurance.

Many of those people live right here in the Rio Grande Valley, which has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare for the president who championed it, went into effect in 2010. It offers large incentives to states are willing to provide a small share of support, especially though the expansion of state Medicaid programs. Currently, the federal government is paying 90% of that cost.

Yes, federal funds come from taxpayers as well, but as with other insurance plans, expanding the Medicaid pool spreads the costs over more policyholders, reducing the cost per account.

With a decade of data to review, analysts have found that the ACA has largely met its goals of protecting more Americans while reducing overall healthcare costs. The coverage has eased financial burdens on individuals and families, and reduced uncompensated medical care.

In short, hospital and medical facilities have reported fewer procedures have gone unpaid. Many hospitals have indigent care agreements with cities and counties, meaning that those entities reimburse the facilities for part of those unpaid bills.

Research by the Commonwealth Fund has found that from 2014-2017, Medicaid expansion has reduced state spending on Medicaid by 4.4% to 4.7%.

Perhaps more importantly during the pandemic, a lack of healthcare coverage might prevent some people who are feeling sick from seeing a doctor, meaning not only that if they do have COVID-19 they are more likely to be sicker by the time they make that visit, but that they remain at risk of infecting others.

As more data come in, more people are voicing support for ACA. Voters in Oklahoma last year overrode their state officials’ opposition and voted to join the ACA states. Our legislators should consider respecting our nation’s professed goal of letting the people decide their own fate, and consider offering a similar referendum before Texas voters.