Expanding Medicaid in Texas could benefit 1 million residents in Houston area

HOUSTON – Medicaid is the health care safety net for millions of Americans.

During the pandemic, when many people lost their jobs and their health coverage, Medicaid became even more important for people struggling.

Texas is one of only 12 states that chose not to take additional federal money to expand Medicaid coverage in a political battle that’s been going on for years.

However, in a small step forward Wednesday, Texas lawmakers voted to go ahead with a bill that would cover one of the most vulnerable groups: mothers and babies.

Now, one million low-income Texans are hoping for a full expansion soon.

Amber Ayala is a full-time UH student who would benefit from Medicaid expansion.

Ayala is majoring in psychology, has an internship and works at a grocery store to pay her way. She’s also never had regular doctor check-ups because in her busy schedule she doesn’t work enough hours at the grocery store to qualify for healthcare benefits. So, she typically doesn’t go to a clinic unless an illness gets so bad she can’t tolerate it.

Ayala said her mother supports her when she can but she also supports seven other family members.

So, Ayala lives on a wish and a prayer that she doesn’t get sick or she’d be forced to choose between paying for her health or paying for her education.

“I just wait it out and try to ride it out and hope that I get better within a week or two,” Ayala said.

Brian Sasser with the Episcopal Health Foundation in Houston blames a gap in coverage as the reason so many Texans don’t have access to quality healthcare.

“I think for Amber and so many they’re in that gap and they don’t make enough to qualify for help under the Affordable Care Act to get cheaper health insurance, but they make too much to be on a regular Medicaid in Texas,” Sasser said. “So in this gap, there’s a million people in it and severely affected by it. Expanding Medicaid fixes that gap.”

This gap hits women and babies especially hard.

In Texas, about a quarter of women of childbearing age have no health insurance.

According to the March of Dimes, 20% don’t get prenatal visits and it puts Harris County-Houston’s preterm birth rate at 12%, which is worse than the state average and one of the worst in the country.

House lawmakers voted in favor of a bill Wednesday giving women access to Medicaid coverage for a year postpartum instead of the current two months.

“Up to a year after delivering you can experience some hypertension and diabetes might come into play. That can cause some adverse outcomes. So, we really want to make sure that those moms have access to very good medical care so that they can be treated for that,” said Heather Butscher, Houston March of Dimes Maternal and Infant Health Director.

That bill now moves to the Senate (SB121). Butscher said to call your senator and encourage them to vote in favor of this bill in order to give low-income women and babies access to Medicaid for 12 months after delivery.

But, what about including other low-income, working people like Ayala in that expansion?

“I think if Texas expanded Medicaid tomorrow it will be like a huge burden lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “It would just put me at ease and I wouldn’t have to worry about that.”

About 69% of Texans support Medicaid expansion and, according to EHF, it would save the state big money.

$5.4 billion from the federal government could come to Texas, including $950 million to Harris county.

“The list adds up so it makes financial sense as well it’s just the right thing to do,” Sasser said.