Reproductive rights activists rally, lobby for Planned Parenthood

PP Capitol rally

A congregation of pink shirts, posters and “pussy hats” swarmed the state Capitol Wednesday in support of Planned Parenthood, protesting more than 40 anti-abortion bills in the Texas Legislature.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis said defunding the organization would cut crucial health services for women beyond abortion.

“There is no state funding that goes to provide abortion care,” Davis said. “We are talking about taking money away from that very valuable breast cancer, uterine cancer screens that they do, the diabetes screens that they provide, the pap smears, the birth control pills, the IUDs.”

Some of the protested bills had hearings during the rally. One of the most contentious was House Bill 434, which protects doctors from legal action if they do not inform women of potential birth defects or disabilities during pregnancy. A companion Senate bill passed two weeks ago and now awaits House approval.

State House Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, authored HB 434. Simmons told The Dallas Morning News that the bill mainly intends to prevent doctors from being unfairly sued, while admitting it may also help decrease abortions in Texas.

“This is a pro-life bill that is really a bill to protect our doctors in cases where, for whatever reason, they didn’t see a disability, and to keep them from being sued,” Simmons said. “There may have been a couple of cases filed on this in the past, and it hasn’t been something that’s been a rampant problem here in Texas. This preempts there being a problem, we hope.”

Undeclared freshman Katerina Wittliff said she disagrees with HB 434 because its overall premise raises ethical concerns.

“It’s wrong for a doctor to hide the health of the baby from parents, because not only do they have the right to know, but they need to prepare if their child is born sick,” Wittliff said. “It’s not only about abortions.”

Brianna Brown, deputy director of the Texas Organizing Project, said defunding the organization disproportionately impacts women of color because they are less likely to own health insurance and need easier access to female health services.

“In Texas, 70 percent of people without health insurance are of color,” Brown said. “No matter how much money you have in your pocket, no matter what zip code you live in … we have been fighting for all Texans to be able to go to doctors.”

This story originally appeared 4/6/2017 in The Daily Texan.

Texas coalition worries about tinkering with Medicaid

TOP healthcare

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.