Houston News & Search
Photo: Melissa Phillip, Staff
Drawing from his history as a civil rights activist, a lawyer and a former judge who has been arrested during several nonviolent protests, U.S. Rep. Al Green rallied about 200 people Saturday who will be affected most by potential Medicaid cuts.
The town hall meeting was a response to the U.S. Senate health bill, under construction by the Republican majority, that would repeal the Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – and install a new version of health reform.
The legislation could beget cuts to Medicaid, the state-based insurance program that covers nearly 4 million Texans. About 70 percent of recipients are children, and the rest are pregnant women, the disabled and poor seniors – many of whom reside in nursing homes.
Green said the forum was one way to remind Congress that the United States is a participatory democracy.
“When the people speak, representatives listen – but people have to speak,” the Houston Democrat said.
Dozens of area groups turned out Saturday to work with the congressman to push back on repeal-and-replace proposals. They included the Children’s Defense Fund-Texas, Houston Women’s March, Houston Area Urban League, Indivisible Houston and Black Lives Matter Houston.
The meeting included testimonials from patients, physicians and health organization leaders who depend on Medicaid for their care or to provide services.
Jason Jones, a Houston case manager for people with disabilities, was born 33 years ago with rare, sight-stealing tumors in both eyes.
“It was Medicaid who was able to cover all the chemotherapy – all the radiation treatments,” he said. “My message to every senator … nothing about us, without us.”
Jimmieka Mills, 29, moved from California to Texas a decade ago and ended up in the hospital because of reactions to mosquito bites. The two-day stay left her $4,000 in debt, she said. She remained uninsured because she didn’t qualify for Medicaid until she became pregnant.
“I was able to go to the doctor for the first time in years to get all the care that I needed,” said Mills, now a Houston Community College student. Her child, now 7, continues to have Medicaid.
“If it was not for Medicaid, my son probably wouldn’t be the healthy, thriving young man that he is today,” Mills said.
Maria R. Palacios, an author, activist and founder of the Houston-based National Women with Disabilities Empowerment Forum, said disabled people are fighting Medicaid cuts in the name of a “right to exist.” “Our disabled lives are worth living,” she said. “The killing of Medicaid programs that are life-sustaining for people with significant disabilities is a death sentence to us.”
Green told the crowd he opposes insurance coverage caps and exclusions for people with pre-existing conditions.
He said personal stories can bridge a knowledge gap for his colleagues, who draw six-figure Congressional salaries and have top-notch government health insurance aside from their accumulated wealth.
“It bothers me that our leaders in Austin have been so silent about this. This bill is bad for the state of Texas,” said Ken Janda, president and CEO of the Houston-based Community Health Choice – an insurance company that manages health care plans focused on low-income families. “One party producing a bill in secret … is not the right thing to do. We need a bipartisan effort of bringing people together.”
Others testified about how Medicaid allows people to pay for nursing home care at the end of life, to live independently with disabilities and to survive chronic diseases.
Nearly 70 percent of Texas nursing home residents rely on Medicaid.
Chamane Barrow with the Houston Center for Independent Living has a daughter who was born with cerebral palsy. That child now has a college degree, works and lives on her own because of a Medicaid-paid attendant.
“Medicaid isn’t just about health care – it’s about services that support people being independent in the community. Without that, my daughter couldn’t get out of bed,” Barrow said. “It’s about people not having to go to nursing homes.”
Dr. Roopa Nalam, an internal medicine physician in Houston, cares for patients with cystic fibrosis. “What is the point of medical research if we do not value people’s lives enough to pay for their care?” she asked aloud through tears. “We cannot let this poisonous health care legislation become the law of the land.”
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