Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t endorsing anyone yet in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but he has listed the top criteria for a candidate to gain his support. The first two are border security and “fixing” Medicaid. There already has been a lot of hyperventilation over the first, so let’s skip to the second.
Regarding Medicaid, according to The Dallas Morning News, Abbott wants his choice for the Republican nomination to “promise and commit to at least a block grant program so that Texans can do a better job of taking care of themselves with regard to the health care system.”
I assume the governor delivered that line with a straight face, but the thought of the current state leadership doing a “better job” with the health care system is preposterous. That would require a complete reversal of priorities for a political leadership that consistently has ranked public health care at the bottom of its list of concerns, right alongside public education. And, health care has important consequences for education.
Texas continues to lead the nation in the percentage of people without health insurance and, last year, edged out the more populous California for the largest actual number of uninsured people as well. About 5 million Texans, or 19 percent of the state’s population, lacked health insurance in 2014. That was an improvement from 2013, when 5.75 million residents, or 22 percent of the Texas population, were uninsured.
Texas leaders, though, did nothing to cause the reduction in the uninsured. The reduction was brought about by the fact that about 700,000 Texans found insurance under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which the political majority in Texas continues to castigate. The Texas leadership also refuses to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which could provide health care coverage to as many as 1 million additional adult Texans with the federal government picking up most of the cost.
Abbott and other state leaders want more authority over Medicaid so they can have more authority over eligibility and other rules, with the goal of saving money in the state budget, not necessarily increasing health care coverage. And, their approach would increase the burden on county taxpayers, whose hospitals would have to provide more expensive, emergency care to indigents without health insurance and access to preventive care.
Several hundred thousand of the Texans without health insurance are public school students. Without proper health care, they are more likely to struggle in class, have lower test scores and drop out.
Let’s make health care a real priority, not a political one.