Houston Congresswoman Gets Ready For New Healthcare Fight

The Supreme Court has upheld most of President Obama's health care law. But the political fight over how to implement the law is not over, least of all in Texas.

Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee represents a large portion of Houston and Harris County, and she’s eager to see the law implemented as soon as possible.

She gathered dozens of local health care advocates to rally for the law at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in downtown Houston.

“It’s been a very difficult battle, it had not ended when we voted and the bill was actually signed. Many went to court, that is their privilege. The court has now spoken.”

Lee has calculated that in her district alone, the law could help 184,000 people get access to health insurance.

It will also help 480 families every year avoid medical bankruptcy.

But Lee says in order for all these benefits to really work, the state of Texas must expand the Medicaid program to cover more than a bare minimum of adults.

That’s one part of the law the Supreme Court said was optional for states.

“We have the opportunity to save lives. And so this letter is asking the governor to opt in to the Medicaid expansion. Which will be a meager amount in contrast to the dollars lost when individuals come to emergency rooms, when they don’t have access to mental health services, when they don’t have access to preventative care.”

The Texas legislature meets next year and will have a few months whether to expand Medicaid to more Texans.

If it does, a family of four making up to $30,000 a year could qualify for Medicaid under the expansion.

“They can’t afford to not move forward with the Medicaid expansion.”

Ron Cookston is the executive director of Gateway to Care. It’s a local nonprofit that connects uninsured patients with clinics and other medical services.

Cookston points out the federal government will pay all of the cost of expanded Medicaid for the first few years.

Even after that, Texas taxpayers will only have to pay 10 percent at most.

“That much money flowing through the economy of the state of Texas is going to make a lot more in terms of income to the state of Texas than that 10 percent cost. That’s where I think common sense will eventually take the day.”

One fourth of all Texans are uninsured.

Cookston says he hopes some of them will be prepared to testify before the Legislature on the need to expand Medicaid.

From the KUFH Health and Science Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...