You win some and you lose some. So it might go for Texas if Congress ends up approving health care reform including an “opt-out” public option. But this is a life and death battle Texas Hispanics simply can’t afford to lose.
Earlier this week, the Senate’s Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nevada), stated his intent to craft a bill that incorporates a government-administered public option while permitting individual states to opt out. The details of how such states could opt out are still unclear. It is most likely, however, that states would initially be included in the reform. Legislatures could then vote to opt out, requiring final gubernatorial approval.
While many in the media have seen this development as a victory for liberal Democrats, I see it as a cop out designed to secure the votes needed in the Senate to avoid a filibuster while potentially sacrificing the needs of some of the neediest populations in our country when it comes to health coverage and health disparities.
Nowhere might this be more glaring than in Texas, the first state that came to my mind when I heard states might be allowed to opt out.
To be clear, I support a public option, based on my experiences working in communications for both private insurance companies as well as public health entities, including the Texas Department of State Health Services.
In a September 10th column titled “Public Option: Much-Needed Insurance for Latinos,” I wrote:
“Our privately-run health care system has failed minority groups dismally for generations, contributing to deadly health disparities among Latinos and Blacks. I’m not convinced regulating the same old health insurance providers while squeezing their budgets will create the paradigm shift required to radically alter this industry’s approach to the unique challenges Latinos face. According to the Office of Minority Health, “Hispanic health is often shaped by factors such as language/cultural barriers, lack of access to preventive care, and the lack of health insurance.” Making matters worse, Corporate America faces cultural obstacles of its own in tackling minority health needs.”
I thus believe the public option is the best way to ensure that this national health reform truly make strides in addressing the needs of Hispanics – as well as other – minority communities.
All you have to do is look at the glaring health disparities affecting these groups – and their higher rates of uninsured – to know they need new options. Nationally, 30.7 percent of Hispanics, 19.1 percent of Blacks, and 17.6 percent of Asians don’t have health insurance, compared to 10.8 percent of non-Hispanic Whites.
In Texas, matters are even worse. According to a New York Times analysis of Census data: Texas leads the pack of states likely to opt out of the public option – Red states that voted for John McCain and have two Republican senators – with the highest rate of uninsured: 26.5 percent. Of particular relevance to Texas’ Hispanic leaders and elected officials is that within Texas, a whopping 42.4 percent of Hispanics are uninsured. That’s nearly 3.5 million Texan Hispanics. (Source: US Census Bureau, Small Area Health Insurance Estimates)
Tragically, in the states most likely to opt out, the uninsured – predominantly minority – populations are concentrated in districts that typically vote Democratic while their overall state goes Republican. It’s like the doctors, insurance executives and government leaders are walking through the crowded hospital waiting room determining the fate of America’s future and they’re not stopping to listen to the overwhelmingly Hispanic patient population in places like San Antonio, Laredo, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley. Maybe it’s because they don’t speak “español.” Maybe it’s because we’re so far away and can’t drag our sick, uninsured bodies to the steps of Capitol Hill to protest. Maybe it’s because the liberal Democrats know they’ll get our votes no matter what and the Republicans know they won’t. Whatever the case may be, this is the time our elected Representatives in Congress need to stand up and fight for the right kind of public option, one that does not allow Texas’ Republican governor and legislature to rob our communities of the full benefits of national reform.
If anyone is not sure whether this should be the fight of Texas Hispanic leaders in Washington, consider this excerpt from a piece in the Houston Chronicle:
The Texas congressional delegation holds an ignominious honor: It has more congressional districts with more uninsured people than any other state in the country. Texas, which has the nation’s highest rate of uninsured, has four districts among the highest 10 in the country for constituents who lack coverage, including two in South Texas represented by Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes.
Hinojosa’s district in the Rio Grande Valley holds the double-distinction of being the highest in the state and the country — with 46.4 percent of residents with no health-care coverage…Other Texas districts in the bottom 10 nationally are represented by Cuellar in Laredo, sixth highest, and Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, ranked eighth highest.
I’ve already heard Governor Rick Perry decrying the public option as “socialism” on FOX News. We can all see the writing on this border wall. If the “liberals” in Congress cop out via an opt-out public option, declaring national victory, it is the uninsured in places like Brownsville, Texas that will lose once again. It’s up to our representatives to ensure the “opt-out” gets cut out of the final bill sent to the President. So, got get ‘em team. Let’s make sure we win one for the “gente.”
Rudy Ruiz has been hailed as a cultural visionary. A published author and multicultural advocate, Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies ranked by Ad Age as one of the Top US Agencies across all disciplines. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.