Capital highlights: Bid to expand health coverage for low-income Texans fails
A bid to expand health coverage for low-income Texans failed in the Texas House last week, 80-68.
State leaders have long opposed expanding the Medicaid program, which is largely funded by the federal government. The measure that failed last week would have allowed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to negotiate a funding agreement with the feds, called a 1115 demonstration waiver, that would cover more uninsured Texans without technically expanding Medicaid, according to various media sources, including the Texas Tribune.
Just over a week ago, the Biden administration rescinded a federal 1115 waiver approved in the final days of the Trump administration, which would have provided the state billions of dollars over the next decade to cover emergency care for uninsured Texans. The state was exempted from the normal public notice process, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Gov. Greg Abbott blasted that decision, saying it “obstructed healthcare access for vulnerable Texans.”
Backers of health-care expansion are pinning their waning hopes on House Bill 3871, sponsored by Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton. Her bill also uses an 1115 waiver to attract federal funding to expand Medicaid eligibility as well as increased in Medicaid reimbursements to doctors, according to the Tribune. But time is running out with the bill still stuck in committee.
If that bill fails to pass, Texas officials will have to begin renegotiating with the Biden administration to restore the funding. More than 650,000 Texans lost their employer-sponsored insurance during the pandemic. Texas has the highest number and highest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation, according to the Texas Comptroller’s Office.
Mass transit loses even more ridership during pandemic
Mass transit in Texas has been experiencing a decline in ridership the last few years, according to a Fiscal Notes report by the comptroller’s office. The outlook has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, with steep drops in ridership, revenue and service.
According to census data, “in terms of population share, Blacks and Hispanics are overrepresented among public transit riders, as are those with relatively low incomes. Comparatively large shares of those with jobs in education, health care, recreation and food services — the workers most affected by the pandemic — use public transit to get to work,” the report noted.
However, the pandemic has taken its toll on mass service, particularly in urban areas. Houston Metro reported its total ridership in December 2020 was 53.6 percent lower than in December 2019. Research scientists, such as Michael Walk with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, say the use of multiple modes of transportation can make mass transit more appealing to riders.
With the state experiencing explosive population growth, transportation officials hope to keep public transit a viable option both in urban and rural areas, according to the comptroller’s report.
Media ad campaign to boost vaccines begins
A $1.5 million television and radio ad campaign was launched last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services to encourage Texans to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The ads, in both English and Spanish, feature several doctors urging folks to get the vaccine, as the pace of shot administered has slowed.
“Our research shows that individual health care professionals are the most trusted voices for people deciding whether to get vaccinated,” said DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt. “Over the coming weeks we will continue to share messages encouraging various communities to get vaccinated. We are also relying on trusted voices within those communities to speak up and let their neighbors know that the available COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to end the pandemic and restore normalcy.”
Vaccine doses now over 10 million mark; COVID-19 cases steady
The number of Texans who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine reached 10.56 million as of Sunday, according to DSHS. The number of folks who are fully vaccinated hit 7.11 million, which is about 24% of the state’s population.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas rose slightly last week compared to the previous week, to 23,684, with new deaths dropping slightly at 359, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. Similarly, lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals was at 2,793 for the same period, down slightly from the previous week, according to DSHS.
Texas lifts pause on J&J vaccine
Vaccine providers in Texas can resume using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, DSHS announced.
The Centers for Disease Control paused use of the one-dose vaccine in mid-April after 15 cases of blood clots were identified, primarily in women between 18 and 49. That’s out of more than 7 million shots administered nationally.
Boosters of the vaccine point to the simplicity of a single-dose vaccine and the ease of storage, according to Hellerstedt, the DSHS commissioner.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.