When a neighbor’s dog nipped her hand near the fingernail last winter, Trish W. put off going to the doctor because it didn’t seem worth the dent it would put in her already tight budget.
It wasn’t until her hand swelled to the point where her finger nearly burst that she finally gave in.
The doctor told Trish, a 33-year-old from Canyon Lake who has a genetic blood disorder that hinders her ability to fight bacteria, that she’d narrowly escaped deadly sepsis and that she could have lost her hand. The hospital kept her overnight to be sure. She later received a $2,000 bill that she couldn’t afford.
“Of course as a single mother, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I might not leave this hospital,’” said Trish, who asked that her last name not be used in order to protect her family’s privacy. “‘This could be the last time I see my kid.’ And that’s terrifying.”
It’s a scenario she might have avoided with a Medicaid card, but her pay as a certified nursing assistant, which she said can reach $1,700 “on a good month,” means she makes too much to qualify under Texas eligibility rules — but not enough to buy her own insurance.
“I fall right in that gap,” said Trish, who lives in an RV with her 12-year-old son.
Texas lawmakers have been presented with billions of dollars in federal incentives this year to join 38 other states in expanding the state-run Medicaid program to adults like Trish who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level.
That’s about $1,500 per month for an individual, or $3,000 a month for a family of four. Currently the threshold in Texas is about $200 per month for a family of two, or about $300 per month for a family of four.
Among several bills filed in the conservative Texas Legislature is a Medicaid expansion plan with bipartisan support that is similar to those adopted in some Republican-led states.
Nine House Republicans and all 67 House Democrats have publicly signed on to House Bill 3871, which would give it enough votes to pass the 150-member chamber. Although none of the proposals have gotten a hearing this session, Medicaid expansion is expected to be introduced in some form as a floor amendment Thursday when the House debates the state budget.
First introduced as part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act in 2010, the requirement to expand eligibility for Medicaid was fiercely resisted by Republican-led states, including Texas, on the argument that it was fiscally unsustainable and, equally importantly, expanded an entitlement program when the goal should be to make people less dependent on the government.
Since then, however, all but 12 states have expanded their Medicaid programs.
Texas, meanwhile, has relied on a federal funding agreement, known as the 1115 waiver, that was first approved in 2011 as a means to help hospitals care for uninsured people until the states expanded their Medicaid programs under the ACA. Then the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states couldn’t be required to expand Medicaid.
In the years after, Texas leaders fought to keep the waiver — which doesn’t provide comprehensive health care coverage, drug coverage or other services covered by Medicaid — while resisting expanding Medicaid.
The new federal incentives, combined with news last week that Texas may lose its 1115 funding after October 2022, bring a new pitch to the decadelong debate over adding more than a million people to the Medicaid rolls in Texas.
“The time to do this is now,” said state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, the author of House Bill 3871. “The deal on the table that the [federal] government offered to us is, in my opinion, irresponsible not to accept.”
This article was written by KAREN BROOKS HARPER of The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. This article originally appeared at: https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/21/texas-medicaid-expansion/