With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care exchange program set to launch Oct. 1, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius stopped in Houston on Monday to discuss how new federal health provisions will affect Texas — which, after five years, still maintains the highest uninsured rate in the nation.
After a roundtable meeting with area community leaders at the Julia Ideson Library, Sebelius told reporters that local support for the controversial 2012 bill remains strong in spite of continued pushback from the Republican-led Texas Congress.
Governor Rick Perry continues to oppose the expansion of Medicaid assistance to poor adult Texans while state lawmakers vocally refuse to enforce any regulations relating to the new federal law. Though Texas can craft its own health care exchange program, state legislators are defaulting to the insurance marketplace operated by the federal government.
"This is the law of the land. It was upheld by the Supreme Court, the president was re-elected and we're implementing the act. It's really not a political debate anymore. It's the law."
"State leadership has been pretty adamant that they did not want to participate in the Affordable Care Act," the secretary explained. "Having said that, this is the law of the land. It was upheld by the Supreme Court, the president was re-elected and we're implementing the act. It's really not a political debate anymore. It's the law."
At Texas' city and county level, however, Sebelius said politicians are beginning to see the bill's potential financial benefits.
"What we're finding is that local leaders really understand what the return on investment is," she noted during a press conference alongside Mayor Annise Parker, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
Not only will the act promote preventative health initiatives, but it will allow the region's entrepreneurs, self-employed workers and small business owners to take advantage of more affordable plans though the federal exchange market.
For Harris County, longtime Republican Emmett said ACA will be "critical" for covering unpaid hospital bills and voiced his disapproval of the Texas legislature's rejection of Medicaid tax funds that could mitigate rising public health costs.
"Those are our tax dollars that are already in Washington and if we don't get reimbursed through Medicaid then the local taxpayer has to pick up that tab. So yes, I do think it's a mistake."
Sebelius followed her Ideson Library appearance with a trip to Legacy Community Health in Montrose, where she announced a new video contest targeting uninsured young adults.
Partnering with the nonprofit Young Invincibles outreach group, the Department of Health and Human Services is looking for songs, animated shorts or videos to tout benefits like staying on a parent's plan until age 26 and the official end of pre-condition clauses. Using funds from ACA's education budget, HHS is offering $30,000 in awards for the winning entries. (Click here for more information.)
The secretary was quick to highlight the importance of the 18-to-34 age bracket, which comprises 30 percent of the nation's uninsured. In Texas, the percentage jumps to 40 . . . and in Houston, young adults are nearly half of the uninsured population.