OP-ED
From the Office of State Senator Royce West - District 23

January 25, 2011
For Immediate Release
CONTACT:  Kelvin Bass, 214-467-0123 / 512-463-0123

Personal benefits should prevail over healthcare reform banter

By Royce West
Texas Senate

In recent days we've seen the U.S. House of Representatives follow through on some members' campaign promises by passing a symbolic bill that would repeal the landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. And while Texas has joined 20 other states in suing the federal government claiming the unconstitutionality of the healthcare reform bill passed by Congress last spring, polls now show that more and more Americans are starting to realize that the much-maligned healthcare law may not be so bad after all.

Most would agree that it's a good thing that children can no longer be denied health insurance due to pre-existing conditions. And so far, there's been no report of seniors returning the $250 checks issued last summer to offset Medicare Part D "donut hole" prescription coverage costs.

But in the midst of the partisan rancor, the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), in its recent report to the Legislature, concluded that the law's provisions "should make it easier for many low-income Texans to obtain private insurance." However the help that could be available through the healthcare reform law is not limited to low-income Texans. Now, young adults up to age 26 can be added to their parents' employer-based health plans and insurers can no longer impose lifetime or annual benefits cap on subscribers.

Texas actually stands to benefit from healthcare reform more than most states. The report says that more than 6.4 million Texans (26.1%) were uninsured throughout 2009. The total for Dallas County for 2007 was even higher at 30.8 percent. The national average is 16.7 percent. Also, fewer Texas residents had private insurance coverage in 2009 (53.8%), than in 2007 (56.9%). And from 2001 - 2009, the number of working Texans with employer-based healthcare coverage dropped by 18 percent.

In compiling its report, TDI held statewide focus groups made up of average citizens, small business owners and their employees. Results of these and other studies show that only 34.2 percent of small businesses (2-49 workers) offer healthcare coverage, compared with 94.0 percent of businesses with 50 or more employees. Small business owners and their workers expressed frustration that "average, working, responsible, citizens could not afford insurance coverage." So while Texas continually boasts of it's attractive, business-friendly climate, healthcare coverage for many employees and even small business owners is sorely lacking.

For millions of Texas workers at small and large companies alike who do not have healthcare coverage, cost was named the most prohibitive factor. Employers also cite the increasing costs of insurance coverage. Cost was identified again as the reason why lower-income families are less likely to be insured.

Healthcare law detractors don't mention the fact that the feds now subsidize small business owners for up to 35 percent of their costs in providing coverage. And come 2014 (God forbid - a successful repeal), the government will help families with incomes from 133 percent to 400 percent of the poverty level with insurance costs through tax credits.

Some state leaders who want no part of the new healthcare law would pass on Texas creating its own health insurance exchange that will allow its citizens to comparison shop for the best coverage options. But both advocates and experts say that such a move is not in state's best interest. Wisely, a Texas House committee chair filed a bill that will establish an exchange. That idea has the support of the Texas Association of Business.

Nearly everyone has felt the impact of high healthcare costs. I'd be curious to know just how many of Texas' 6.4 million uninsured support party-line vows to repeal what some derisively call Obamacare.

For more information, please call Kelvin Bass at 214.467-0123 or 512-463-0123.

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