Sunday, September 25, 2011

Texas is sick

Rick Perry and his hatred for "Obamacare" looks inviting.

Other doctors tell of uninsured children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases such as influenza and hepatitis A, and patients being admitted into the emergency room for uncontrolled asthma and diabetes. Doctors here routinely see untreated infections of the ear, sinus, or tooth spreading to the brain, requiring surgery, and bone infections that result in permanent disability.

“This is an everyday occurrence,’’ said Dr. Claire Bocchini, another Houston pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases and is president of Doctors for Change.

As underfunded as the state’s health safety net has been, conditions stand to worsen. In the last legislative session that ended in May, the state cut two thirds of the funding for women’s health clinics and underfunded Medicaid by almost $4 billion, in addition to cutting hospital reimbursements. This follows other health cuts in the Perry years.

Perry vetoed a bill in 2001 that would have expanded Medicaid services and added cancer screenings such as Pap smears to women’s health services. In 2003, Texas tightened the eligibility requirements for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and as a result, 237,000 children were kicked off its rolls, said Garnet Coleman, a Democratic state representative from Houston who has served in the Texas Legislature for 20 years and is a member of the House Public Health Committee.

The Perry campaign declined a request to interview the governor, saying Perry would work to free states from federal mandates and empower them to come up with their own solutions.

Catherine Frazier, a campaign spokeswoman, said that because there are so many Texas children eligible for Medicaid who are not enrolled, Perry - rather than widen eligibility to more low-income families - focused on increasing funding for public awareness campaigns to encourage the neediest parents to enroll their children.

“The governor has made considerable effort throughout his tenure to make insurance more affordable so people can afford to purchase it if they choose to,’’ Frazier said. “His goal is to create an environment of independence from the government, not dependence.’’

In a recent debate, Perry said conditions would be better in Texas if the federal government had granted the state a waiver, which would have allowed it to redirect Medicaid money into subsidies for private or employer-based insurance. The Bush administration never approved the 2008 request.

The burden of the Texas health care crisis falls largely on the working poor. Most of the state’s uninsured adults have jobs and are US citizens or legal residents, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Policy Priorities. Working adults account for nearly two out of three uninsured Texans between ages 19 and 64, though most of them make less than $25,000 a year.

An example is Joyce Jones, a 60-year-old yoga instructor earning $20,000 a year who said she cannot afford private health insurance because she has Parkinson’s disease, a preexisting condition that would increase her premiums.

Jones has maxed out three of her credit cards paying for health care and has more than $30,000 in credit card debt. She is in the process of signing up for a high-deductible plan for people with preexisting conditions, made possible through the new federal health overhaul law - “Obamacare,’’ as Perry and other GOP candidates call it.

Which would be boo'd by audiences at Republican debates.

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