I hope you enjoyed Summer Break. Because unless you’ve managed to tunnel your way out of this furnace, it sure seems like it’s over.
Start with the heat. That nice, moist, mild summer we were all enjoying pretty well wilted when I pulled up a forecast over the weekend.
So now the real summer starts. The Texas summer. The hot, miserable, look-like-you’ve-jumped-in-a-pool-when-you-walk-down-the-street summer.
But hey, at least we can all spend the next couple of months reminding ourselves how much tougher we are than Californians.
Go vote – seriously
But there’s one thing – and maybe only one thing – it’s not too hot for: voting. In fact, I think voting actually makes you cool.
Today’s the last day to vote in the runoff for the primary elections that you probably voted in last May. (How’s that for giving you the benefit of the doubt?)
Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, there are some critical elections that this state and nation need you to weigh in on.
As an American, this is your duty. As a Texan, it’s your responsibility. As a citizen, it’s your job. Time to punch in.
Hot times at the Capitol
The break feels like it’s pretty well over at the Capitol, too. Committees are meeting. Interim reports and budgets are being written. And even with the session more than five months away, some big legislative issues are beginning to look like loaves in an oven – heating, rising, taking shape, and often (for better or worse) filling with hot air.
This week, the focus will once again be on the question of whether Texas should accept tens of billions of dollars that are now available to support Texas doctors and hospitals, alleviate Texans’ tax burden, fuel Texas’ economy, and help millions of Texans live longer, healthier lives.
As you may know, the Governor unilaterally declared last month that Texas wouldn’t accept these billions of dollars of Texans’ money – money we’ve sent to Washington DC through our federal taxes and wouldn’t mind getting back. He took a pass on the economic windfall these billions of dollars could create, not to mention the huge healthcare benefits that this effort would make available to millions of Texans without insurance.
But some legislators think they should have a vote on this too. And I think they’re right.
Tune in tomorrow
So the Senate State Affairs and Health and Human Services committees are going to have a joint hearing tomorrow to look at what expanding health care in Texas would mean for (among other things) the state, Texans’ health and the budget.
These are critical questions, and folks need to be asking them. Because, frankly, Texas can do better – and Texans deserve better. Sitting back and doing nothing would have terrible consequences for hospitals and other providers, taxpayers and the Texas economy.
Every lawmaker needs to take an honest look at what this effort could mean for Texans, their health, their tax bills and the economy – before they jump to any conclusions.
It’s possible there are problems with some state and federal health programs. Let’s be honest about those. Where there are issues, let’s fix them. State government, and every program in it, absolutely must be efficient, transparent and accountable.
But health and health care can’t be political props in a less-than-serious, impractical brawl with the American government – a red-meat fight that benefits no one but politicians running for office. Nor can such critical questions be dealt with through closed-door decrees handed down without debate or discussion.
This is a serious issue at a serious time. It must be dealt with seriously. I hope it will be tomorrow.
Some background reading
If you want to tune in to tomorrow’s hearing, click here. In the meantime, here’s some background information and reading materials to help get you ready:
- Texas leads the nation in the percentage of uninsured residents – by a lot – and the state stands to gain roughly $13 billion a year beginning in 2014 through the healthcare expansion. The state would have to contribute nothing for that money for the first three years, and its contribution would max out at 10 percent of the cost of the expansion in 2020.
- The state is projected to receive more than $100 billion in federal matching funds through the healthcare expansion through 2023. By comparison, the state’s match would be just $15.6 billion over that time.
- The program could mean coverage for more than 1.5 million adults, “plus as many as 300,000 pregnant women, children and extremely poor parents.”
- It would provide Medicaid coverage for those with incomes of less than 133 percent of federal poverty level, which is “just under $15,000 a year for an individual, or a little over $25,000 for a family of three.”
- If the legislature follows the Governor’s lead and refuses to expand heath care or accept the federal money, “Texas hospitals will face the prospect of huge Medicare and Medicaid funding cuts without as many new paying customers.” Hospitals are already struggling with the costs of uncompensated care.
- Without the expansion or federal support, many of these costs might ultimately be borne by local taxpayers, who would keep paying for other people’s care without being able to access the money they’ve sent to Washington through their taxes for this purpose. This editorial rightly decries that as “double-taxation.”
Hope that helps. Hope you tune in tomorrow. And I hope you voted – or are going to vote – today.