Thanks to the ongoing politicized fight over the health reform law, 23 states are refusing to accept Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid program, a move that’s ultimately denying health coverage to millions of the poorest Americans. Over five million people — mostly poor people of color — will fall into a coverage gap in which they make too much money to qualify for public insurance through Medicaid, but too little to qualify for federal subsidies to help them purchase private insurance in the exchanges.
Texas, which has the highest uninsured population in the nation, is home to the largest number of people in that gap. About one million low-income Texans won’t have any access to affordable health coverage under Obamacare because of Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) refusal to expand Medicaid, a bleak reality that forces some uninsured people to seek care across the border in Mexico. Now, at least some of those people are fighting back.
“Texas Left Me Out” is a new campaign that’s collecting stories from uninsured Texans, with the ultimate goal of pressuring state officials to start cooperating with health reform. “Sign our petition to tell elected officials to act so these Texans can get the health coverage they need,” the site, which was built by Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, proclaims.
“We launched the ‘Texas Left Me Out Campaign’ with a number of state-based health care nonprofits so that we can identify who falls into the coverage gap and motivate them to action,” Phillip Martin, the Deputy Director at Progress Texas, explained to ThinkProgress. The campaign’s purpose is two-fold: first, make sure that the Texans who are losing out on Medicaid coverage understand exactly who’s to blame for that, and then, turn them into a political force to be reckoned with.
“Our goal is to mobilize them in the coming year so anyone who is denied health coverage can hold Greg Abbott and Rick Perry accountable,” Martin said. “Medicaid expansion is an electoral issue progressives can win with, even in Texas.”
Indeed, polling has found that Texans sharply disagree with their lawmakers’ position on Medicaid. Two-thirds of Texas residents support the expansion of the public program, and a long list of organizations — including at least 18 Chambers of Commerce in the state — have also publicly come out in support of the policy. In March, more than a thousand people rallied at the state capitol building to push for expansion.
At an event in Dallas last month, President Obama urged Perry to reconsider his stance. If Texas agreed to expand Medicaid, the state could collect up to $100 billion in federal funds over the next decade to help finance it. But Texas officials, who have dug in their heels on every aspect of reform, haven’t relented.
So Progress Texas and its nonprofit partners are planning to start an aggressive campaign to promote “Texas Left Me Out,” as well as a Spanish version of the site, in 2014. In addition to getting people mobilized to fight back against Texas’ decision to reject Medicaid expansion, the websites also provide residents with information about the federal HealthCare.Gov site, which could still offer an avenue for coverage for those who can find a way to afford private insurance. They’ll host community events, run online campaigns, and knock on doors to keep spreading the word about health care reform — and who’s getting left behind.
The number of people in Texas who fall into the coverage gap certainly represent enough voters to sway an election. The National Memo points out that Perry won re-election by 631,178 votes in 2010.
“We’re hopeful that other states whose governors are refusing to expand Medicaid follow our model,” Martin told ThinkProgress.