This commentary appeared in the Austin American-Statesman. The deadline to enroll in Marketplace coverage is March 31st. Check out affordable health care options at www.healthcare.gov.
Reaching the first rungs on the ladder of opportunity is easier when you’re able to start from a foundation of financial security. Having the basics covered gives you the chance to step back and concentrate on getting that next promotion, pursue an educational goal or save to invest in a home or new business. Without that secure base, though, advancement is much harder. Energy that could be used to get ahead instead gets diverted to staying afloat.
Fully half of Texas households don’t have the sort of financial security that leads to true freedom. According to a recent study from the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development, many Texans’ savings and assets wouldn’t cover all their needs in the event of a crisis, like losing a job or having an illness or injury that makes it impossible to work. Many families, including a lot of people in the middle class, would have trouble making ends meet after a setback like that.
The good news is, this year, there’s a way for more people to protect themselves against the worst and bring a little added security into their lives. Given that the leading cause of bankruptcy is unexpected medical expenses, one of the best things Texans can do is make sure this year that they get every member of their family health insurance.
The new insurance options available under the Affordable Care Act are giving hundreds of thousands of Texans the chance, for the first time, to get the coverage they need. In our state, many workers are employed by small businesses or in the retail and service sectors, holding jobs that don’t offer good health benefits. Texas has the nation’s highest rate of uninsured people, and for many years, a lot of our friends, relatives and neighbors have struggled to find coverage they could afford. For the people with pre-existing conditions, having no insurance option at all was common.
This year, however, most Texans who are uninsured don’t just qualify for coverage — the largest group among them can get financial help paying for a health plan. Nearly a million more, including hundreds of thousands of children, are eligible right now for CHIP or Medicaid. The remaining low-wage uninsured Texans are waiting on the state Legislature to fix a gap in Medicaid coverage.
Overall, 6 in 10 shopping for coverage in the health insurance marketplace can find a plan for $100 per month or less. And this isn’t the skimpy coverage that used to be common, with all sorts of exceptions in fine print. Rather, pre-existing conditions — from asthma to diabetes to even cancer — are covered, as are essential benefits and preventive care that people need.
When you have good health insurance, you don’t have to worry as much about whether your family is taken care of. No Texan wants to wonder if one piece of bad news at the doctor’s office or one unexpected injury on the highway could lead to losing everything they’ve worked for. Coverage gives Texans a buffer against the double tragedy of health crises that become financial crises, too.
The 4 million Americans who have enrolled in a health plan to date managed to put that kind of uncertainty behind them. And given that 8 in 10 Texans who have enrolled so far received financial help paying for coverage, a lot right here in the Lone Star State are discovering they can cover their whole families for far less than what some media reports led them to believe.
All Texans who qualify for coverage need the chance to find out about these opportunities before the March 31 enrollment deadline. But that requires people to help spread the news. A lot more Texans could be talking to the people in their lives who have had to live without health insurance and encouraging them to check out their new options.
Only a little time remains before the enrollment deadline. Every day, more Texans are getting covered and finding a firm foundation beneath them that comes with knowing that they’re protected, even in the event of a medical crisis. More, too, are getting access to the kind of preventive care that staves off those kinds of crises in the first place. Assurance like that is a great foothold for any ladder to success, but it requires more of us taking action and spreading the word before the month ends.
Clayton Travis is Hogg Foundation Mental Health Policy Fellow at Texans Care for Children. Garcia is Texas state director for Enroll America. Learn more about new health insurance options and find help at www.getcoveredamerica.org.