Affordable Care Act on Track in TX Despite Gov's Foot-Dragging

As the country prepares for the rollout of the Affordable Care Act on October 1, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has hit the road, spreading the word nationwide about the new law. She's been meeting with local leaders across the country to discuss how the ACA's implementation will affect their communities.

Sebelius's August trips included multiple stops in Texas, including San Antonio, Austin, and Houston. Over the course of this month, she's met with leaders from all three cities--among them were Austin's Lee Leffingwell, San Antonio's Julian and Joaquin Castro, and Houston's Annise Parker and Sheila Jackson Lee. In each city, she discussed plans to carry out the new provisions of the ACA on a local level. She asserted her confidence that Texas's federally-run health insurance exchanges are on track to open for business on time on October 1.

The Affordable Care Act has faced unique challenges in Texas due to the state leadership's refusal to cooperate with the federal government's efforts to implement the law. Governor Perry declined funding for Medicaid expansion and refused to create state-run health insurance exchanges, preferring to spend his time on partisan attacks instead of insuring the millions of Texans who need it. Sebelius's visit prompted Perry to release a statement reiterating his opposition to Obamacare and his desire to prevent its success.

While in Texas, Sebelius criticized Perry and other state officials' continued resistance to the Affordable Care Act. "This is the law. It's really not a political debate anymore," Sebelius reminded state officials during her remarks in Houston. She also rebutted Perry's claim that all Texans were opposed to Obamacare, declaring that "in all due deference to Gov. Rick Perry ... people are actually enthusiastically embracing the law" here in Texas.

Sebelius also expressed interest in working with state officials to discuss ways that Medicaid expansion could work in Texas. During her remarks in Austin, she said that she's open "to hav[ing] discussions with Texas about a [Medicaid expansion] program that could look uniquely Texan." But our state leaders obstinacy means that "those conversations, at least with the state officials, are not taking place right now."

Though Perry and other Republican state leaders haven't been cooperative, Sebelius has received a great deal of support from other elected officials and community leaders throughout the state. As she explained during her remarks in San Antonio:

While there hasn't been a lot of cooperation from state officials, there is a lot of enthusiasm and active help and support from a whole series of other officials and community leaders. So we have mayors throughout the State of Texas who are really engaged and involved and want to use their networks to get the word out to folks. We have members of the congressional delegation who voted for the bill in the first place who are strongly supporting enrollment and education activities. Certainly a lot of county officials.

Many of these local leaders have stepped up and voiced their own solidarity with Sebelius's mission to get the ACA implemented in Texas. Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell released this statement in support of the ACA:

Some say 'Keep Austin Weird'... I also say 'Keep Austin Insured.' I disagree with efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act and find it unfortunate that anyone would be working to deny central Texas residents the peace of mind that affordable healthcare brings.  I look forward to October 1st when Austinites will have the ability to enroll in coverage through the Marketplace which must cover a set of essential benefits, including doctor visits, prescriptions, and mental health services.  Additionally, discrimination based on gender or pre-existing conditions, like diabetes or cancer, will be outlawed. Moving forward means no more days of insurers locking out, dumping out or pricing out anyone who might get sick.

Sebelius's trips to Texas this month highlighted the fact that many communities are embracing the Affordable Care Act, even if state leadership is not. Local officials are working hard to get their communities insured. But Sebelius's trip also served as a reminder that Republican leaders are determined to advance their political agendas at the expense of what's in the best interest of Texas. Their insistence on playing politics makes it more difficult to implement policies that make Texans healthier, and that's hurting the state.  

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