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Lawmakers Improve Medicaid Access For Children And New Moms, But Fail To Expand Coverage To Lower-Income Texans

A few bills aimed at expanding coverage for babies and new mothers on Medicaid passed in the waning hours of the legislative session.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A few bills aimed at expanding coverage for babies and new mothers on Medicaid passed in the waning hours of the legislative session.

Health care advocates had high hopes Texas lawmakers would expand Medicaid this session to more than a million people classified as the working poor, especially considering the pandemic and worsening financial pressures for hospitals.

Several Medicaid expansion bills went nowhere, though, despite receiving bipartisan support.

Anne Dunkelberg, an associate director with the Austin-based policy think tank Every Texan, said it's clear lawmakers are “out of touch” with the needs of the state.

“More and more Texans are disturbed by the failures of state leaders who made no effort to expand health coverage to 1.4 million uninsured Texans, many of them essential workers throughout the pandemic — who deliver our food, clean our offices, and care for our toddlers and grandparents,” she said in a statement.

For years now, Texas has had the highest uninsured rate in the country, and the rate only continues to get worse. It is also one of only 12 states that has not expanded health coverage to its working poor.

But health care advocates say the legislative session wasn't a complete loss. A few bills aimed at expanding coverage for babies and new mothers on Medicaid did pass in the waning hours.

One bill, House Bill 133, extended health care coverage for women on Medicaid from 60 days to six months after giving birth. Years ago, a task force put together by Gov. Greg Abbott to look at maternal deaths recommended lawmakers extend the program for a year, because many deaths were happening that long after.

Another bill lawmakers passed ensures fewer children will be kicked out of the Medicaid program due to paperwork issues. Advocates say about 4,000 children are removed every month because of several monthly income checks after they're already deemed eligible to be on the program. For years, advocates have been asking lawmakers to give children continuous coverage for a year without families having to go through the added paperwork.

The final version of the bill doesn't give a year of continuous coverage, though. Instead, lawmakers agreed on two six-month windows of consecutive coverage; families will have to submit paperwork at the beginning of each.

Stacy Wilson, president of the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas, applauded lawmakers for “passing critical legislation ensuring both children and women have access to the highest quality health care” in the state.

“We thank Speaker Dade Phelan for his leadership,” she said in a statement, “and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Representatives Four Price, Toni Rose, Philip Cortez, James Frank, and Senators Lois Kolkhorst and Dawn Buckingham for their work to improve health care for all Texans, especially kids and women who rely on Medicaid.”

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Ashley Lopez is a reporter forWGCUNews. A native of Miami, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a journalism degree.