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Sylvia Garcia, guest columnist: Hispanics need to think about health care enrollment

SYLVIA R. GARCIA Guest columnist | Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2014 12:01 am

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is benefiting Latinos across Texas. Far into this enrollment process, I am hearing multiple success stories from people who have enrolled for affordable coverage and who are already using it to strengthen their families’ health. Anyone who says differently has to be completely out of touch with the Latino population.

Latinos are disproportionately uninsured in this state. We are 40 percent of the total Texas population, yet we are 60 percent of the uninsured population. The ACA and other programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) greatly benefit Latinos and are critical to our community’s health. They make health care not only affordable but also easily accessible. They even benefit our state’s economy.

We need to support these programs and encourage our family, friends, and neighbors who are uninsured to enroll at the Health Insurance Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov through the March 31 deadline. Already, statewide we have about 300,000 Texans who have found private insurance as of March 1.

A health insurance plan will cost about the same as a monthly mobile phone bill. A so-called “bronze plan” for a 27-year-old in Houston who makes $25,000 could be $89 per month after a tax credit or $94 after a tax credit for a family of four with an income of $50,000. Plans vary based on income and the types of coverage selected, and about 80 percent of Texans who enroll through the Health Insurance Marketplace are receiving some type of financial assistance to ensure coverage fits their budgets.

For example, 24-year-old Benito Balderas, who works at a bail bond company in Houston, enrolled in January and happily came out of the process with a Bronze plan that costs him $44 each month. When asked about his experience, he gratefully says that it was easy for him to enroll with a health care navigator, and it only took about 45 minutes. While he hasn’t used his plan yet, Benito says that he signed up because he thinks it’s worth it, as he will need it sooner or later.

As designed, the Affordable Care Act had coverage for every budget, but decisions made in Texas mean that many will fall through the health care coverage cracks. The inaction of our governor and statewide leaders to accept available federal funding to expand Medicaid in Texas to adults living under the federal poverty level has hurt our state.

Subsidies in the new Health Insurance Marketplace are only available to families above the poverty line ($23,850 for a family of four). However, Medicaid expansion would have covered those making less than that. Over one million uninsured Texas adults will be unable to find coverage because of this lack of action on Medicaid expansion, and 56 percent of those one million uninsured are Latinos.

By not expanding Medicaid under the ACA, Texas left federal dollars on the table. On average, Texas would have received a $9 federal match for every $1 invested by the State. Expansion would have also provided economic benefits that would have included growth in direct and indirect business activity, job gains and a reduction in uncompensated care costs that are currently paid by local governments. Texas economist Ray Perryman estimates that Texas could have realized about $300 billion in output and 350,000 jobs per year over 10 years from Medicaid expansion.

When we don’t adequately provide health coverage, everyone is impacted: Latinos and non-Latinos, the uninsured, the insured, healthcare providers, businesses, local governments and tax payers. The bottom line is that we need to support more access to health coverage for everyone. We can do this by enrolling ourselves, our family and our friends at the Health Insurance Marketplace and urging our statewide leaders to support Medicaid expansion.

For questions about enrollment at the Affordable Care Act in Waco, call the Family Health Center, 1600 Providence Drive, at 254-313-4200; the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Clinic, 1911 N Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, at 254-313-5073; the South 18th Street Community Clinic, 1800 Gurley Lane, at 254-313-6071 or 254-313-6154; Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, 100 Hillcrest Medical Boulevard, at 254-202-9253; or Providence Healthcare Network, Health Insurance Market Place Education Center, 6901 Medical Parkway, at 254-751-4444.

A native of South Texas, state Sen. Sylvia R. Garcia represents a district that includes parts of Houston, Pasadena and Baytown.