Options Narrow In Legislature For Helping Low-Income, Uninsured Adult Texans

A bipartisan bill that would have created health insurance for some uninsured adult Texans has failed in the Texas House. Now the bill's supporters are looking for other legislative solutions before the session ends in two weeks.

Under Obamacare, each state has the option to cover more uninsured adults by adding them to the Medicaid rolls.

Texas legislators have been arguing over whether to do that for months now.

On the one hand, Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured residents of any state.

On the other hand, Gov. Rick Perry has said Medicaid is a “broken” program, and he would veto any bill that would add more Texans to the Medicaid rolls.

John Zerwas is a Republican representative from the Fort Bend County area. He’s also a doctor who tried to craft a compromise bill.

“You know, if we provide these people with insurance, they’re more likely to access health care in a more timely fashion. So your cancers get diagnosed earlier, your hypertension gets treated earlier, your diabetes gets monitored better. And all these things lead to obviously a better quality of life, but it’s also going to lead to the ability to rein in healthcare costs.”

The Zerwas bill was co-sponsored by a Democrat, Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston.

The bill directed state health officials to work out a deal with the federal government, in which poor Texans could use federal and state dollars to buy private policies.

But the bill never made it to a full floor vote in the House, and now the deadline for that has passed.

Zerwas says he could try to attach it to another bill, but the topic is too controversial for that.

“It’s a bill that is associated with a lot of political radioactivity because people feel like it’s going to frame them as being supporters of Obamacare, and that in a subsequent election that could hurt them pretty badly.”

Zerwas says his proposal could have covered up to 1.5 million uninsured Texans.

For now, the proposal is hanging on as a rider to the Senate budget bill. But it’s not in the House version of the budget, and its fate remains uncertain.

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...