Texas coalition worries about tinkering with Medicaid

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — As GOP leaders unveil and move their replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act through Congress, millions of Texans will be watching. Hundreds showed up Monday to protest changes to Medicaid by making it a “block grant,” giving state lawmakers money to implement health insurance for poor and disabled Texans without strings from Washington attached.

A coalition of several groups called “Cover Texas Now” rallied against several new ideas for healthcare. Kate Robinson from Austin fears changes to state-run insurance for poor and disabled Texans.

“I think everyone should care about it because healthcare effects us all,” said Robinson.

Her son was born with a disabled airway; speaking and eating didn’t come easy. Current Medicaid rules allowed her son to have healthcare coverage. If Washington goes with “block grants” — giving Texas the money without specific requirements — she worries her son would be left out.

“I honestly can’t even consider that because in my mind it would mean utter destruction for my whole family,” said Robinson.

“Republicans are just as compassionate as Democrats. We care and we want people to be covered,” said Michael Joyce from the Texas Republican Party. He says a block grant would allow lawmakers to match unique programs to uniquely Texan problems.

“It’s always a good thing when you don’t have to take cues from Washington, and we like to do things a certain way down in Texas,” said Joyce.

As many expect changes in the coming days, more than a million newly covered Texans — and four million Texans still without coverage — will be watching.

We reached out to Congressman Kevin Brady’s Ways and Means Committee to find out what day the process would begin. A committee staffer told us he was instructed to direct us to their website. That website did not have an answer. We reached out to a higher position in the office, and are waiting to hear back.

This story originally appeared 3/6/2017 on KXAN.

Jackson Lee urges supporters of Obamacare to speak out

Jackson Lee

Rony Escobar set four medication bottles and a syringe on the table where he was preparing to testify Saturday about the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee rose from her chair and walked closer to take a look.

“These are daily?” she asked, picking up two of the drugs.

“Yes,” the 23-year-old Houstonian with diabetes and other health conditions said. “I have to take seven pills every day and I have to inject myself four times.”

Escobar was among several greater Houston residents who shared their personal experiences with health care access, as well as their opinions on the promised repeal of the health reform law by Republican lawmakers who now have majorities in both houses of Congress.

Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, hosted a listening session at the Mickey Leland Federal Building in downtown Houston as part of the national push-back by ACA supporters.

‘It’s not political’

Enacted in 2010, the Affordable Care Act was approved by a Congress with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. The health reform plan known as “Obamacare” became the signature legislation and namesake law of President Barack Obama and is considered a core piece of his legacy. The ACA provided a way for uninsured Americans to access individual private health coverage without rejection for pre-existing conditions. The law also requires certain routine medical exams to be covered without co-payments.

Jackson Lee said striking down the law would unravel the insurance market and put people’s lives at risk by potentially causing those with pre-existing conditions to be ineligible for coverage, eliminating access to care for millions and denying reimbursements to hospitals for uncompensated care.

“This is a personal matter for me,” she said. ” I am a cancer survivor. And for anyone that has had catastrophic illness, it is no joke and it’s not political.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than one million Texans have gained coverage through the ACA individual insurance marketplace since 2010 and the state’s uninsured rate has fallen 28 percent to unprecedented lows.

Survey: Many favor repeal

GOP leaders have vowed to undo the law, but have not revealed a replacement plan. According to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 49 percent of those polled said that Congress should repeal the law and 20 percent of respondents supported striking down the ACA before lawmakers devise an alternative.

After Escobar signed up for coverage in the insurance marketplace, he said his monthly out-of-pocket costs fell from more than $800 to less than $200.

“It literally saved my life,” he said.

The congresswoman advised those who want the Affordable Care Act to remain in force to make their voices heard with vigorous action that meets or exceeds the efforts of those who tried to stop the law’s approval by Congress and subsequent implementation.

“As vitriolic as the opposition was, we need to be high-spirited,” she said. “But our highness should be in energy – it should be in marches, protests, emails, texts, calls.”

Fears Medicare cuts

Aurora Harris, 28, told the congresswoman that the ACA broke down health barriers for her as a lesbian and has protected access to care for her mother.

“The Affordable Care Act was really a way for us to start narrowing those health disparities,” the Houston resident said.

Cecelia Fontenot of Houston has diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension. She said the ACA saved her life after she was laid off from her job and lost her health coverage.

“I have to take medication that is very expensive,” she said. “I made a little bit too much money to go to Harris Health (public hospital system) and not enough to purchase insurance on my own.”

The marketplace, with its subsidies, offered her an affordable option to purchase a health plan. She now is covered by Medicare, but “fears” cuts to that program if the ACA disappears.

Several physicians also testified against an ACA repeal. Others who praised the law during the hearing included representatives of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and the Texas Organizing Project as well as leaders in local chapters of the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees known as AFSCME.

This story originally appeared 1/8/2017 in the Houston Chronicle.

North Texas Obamacare Supporters & Opponents Discuss Law’s Impact


Obamacare appears to be hanging by a political thread.

The Republican majority in Congress is poised to repeal it, while Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to rescue it.

President Barack Obama will soon no longer be in power to veto a repeal of what he considers one of his signature achievements.

President-elect Donald Trump has railed against the law and has promised an improvement.

While lawmakers debate Obamacare’s fate, the Obama administration announced more than 1.1 million Texans have signed up for coverage between November 1 and December 31, 2015.

That includes nearly 317,000 people from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Brian Livingston has opposed the law. “I would like to see Obamacare as it is, repealed,” said Livingston.

He and his wife own seven restaurants: two franchises of Texadelphia and five Celebrity Café & Bakery eateries.

They plan to open a sixth Celebrity restaurant this year.

Livingston said among the reasons he wants Congress to end the Affordable Care Act, his health insurance costs have risen by about 15 percent.

He said only a few of their 70 full-time employees even want the insurance. “About ten percent, maybe a little less are actually on my insurance.”

But he said the biggest burden isn’t cost. It’s actually record-keeping — documenting the employees who don’t want it.

“That’s where my stress comes from, just complying with the law and staying up to date on that,” said Livingston.

Lemlem Berhe of DeSoto strongly supports Obamacare and said she’s called an automated phone line at U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office at the Capitol to register her opinion.

“I’m very worried. Not just for me, but everyone else,” said Berhe.

For three years now, Berhe has received subsidized health insurance as part of the law that was passed by only Democrats and signed by President Obama.

“I haven’t had to worry if I get sick, what will happen to me,” said Berhe.

She just re-enrolled for 2017.

Berhe said it’s helped her and that without it, she and millions of others will face hard times.

“If the plan goes away, and they decide it to go away, me and the other 20 million people will be back to square one, where we have no safety net.”

Republicans have been debating whether to repeal the law now and then replace it later or to repeal and replace it at the same time.

Berhe said she wants to see Congress offer a specific plan to replace Obamacare before they kill it.

Speaker Ryan has said Republicans are considering a number of plans.

Livingston said he wants a plan that’s more affordable and easy to follow.

“So the small business owner is not required to enforce the law, not required to be the police for it,” said Livingston.

He said he doesn’t know what will happen next, but he says his insurance policy renewal comes this April.

This story originally appeared 1/5/2017 on CBS 11.