Texas children are being left behind without access to healthcare, partly a result of action taken by former Gov. Rick Perry to cut the expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
According to a new study by Wallethub, Texas ranks 49th in the country for children with access to health insurance, an indication that healthcare is on the backburner of priorities.
In 2012, in response to the newly adopted Affordable Care Act, Perry shot down the expansion of Medicaid to the Lone Star State, losing out on approximately $13 billion a year in federal money to help children find insurance.
“Only 89.1 percent of Texas children aged 0-17 have health insurance,” said Jill Gonzalez, a research analyst for Wallethub. “Yes, the lack of Medicaid expansion is the reason why so many children and adults are uninsured. Children from low-income families are especially affected by this. They are unable to access Medicaid and can’t afford other health insurance.”
Following his predecessor, Gov. Greg Abbott holds firm on Perry’s decision to limit the expansion of Medicaid to Texas. In a 2015 press release, Abbott said Medicaid expansion is wrong for Texas, citing Obamacare as a massive expansion of an already broken and bloated Medicaid program.
But local pediatricians aren’t convinced that the lack of Medicaid expansion is helping Texas children receive the health care they desperately need.
Dr. Julie Fisher, a physician at Corridor Primary Care Pediatrics in Kyle, said the expansion of Medicaid is widely accepted by physicians in the field, especially in Central Texas where families are in need of assistance.
“Because of these issues, we are seeing a lot of our patients lose their benefits and aren’t able to seek health care,” Fisher said. “With no insurance, young children can lose access to receive their vaccines which puts them and other children at risk for a variety of diseases.”
Fisher said the lack of health care for children puts a burden on the healthcare system. Families with no insurance can visit the emergency room to receive services, and when they cannot pay the medical bill, will set up a payment plan or become a burden to the hospital or taxpayers.
Throughout undergraduate and medical school, Fisher relied on health insurance from her parents’ policy before being able to support herself financially. Without that assistance, she would have been forced to pay for insurance out of her own pocket as a student.
The Trump administration is continuing an ongoing legal battle against Obamacare, and is joined by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the fight. If the ACA is found unconstitutional, it would allow insurance companies to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions, which according to the Department of Health and Human Services, amounts to 130 million Americans under the age of 65.
“We are fighting for health care for everyone,” Fisher said. “I’ve had patients get dropped from their insurance and they have chronic illnesses and need that assistance. We cannot deny children with preexisting conditions health care that they need. Without it, these children cannot survive. How can you deny something that is so critical to the health of our children?”
Additionally, Texas is struggling to find enough new physicians. According to WalletHub, Texas ranks 45th in physicians per capita, despite having the second largest population in the country.
Gonzalez said the number of physicians available in Texas is one of the worst in the nation, adding injury to the state’s current healthcare dilemmas.
“One of the biggest issues is access to care for patients that require a specialist,” Fisher said. “A lot of patients have to travel to San Antonio or Austin to see a specialist since we don’t have that service here. That is especially prominent in places like the Rio Grande Valley where families have to travel hundreds of miles to see a specialist for their children, which can put a burden on the family financially.”
Fisher said it breaks her heart to see patients struggle with their medical needs but hopes some change will come from the Texas legislature in the future.