This election season, don’t forget about health care

Beto O’Rourke, the U.S. representative for Texas’s 16th congressional district in El Paso, spoke at UTD in the SSA auditorium on Sept. 20 at an event held by No Labels. Photo by David Worman | Mercury Staff.

A key complaint from students at UTD is the lack of access to mental health counseling services on campus due to high demand. Long wait times force many students to seek these services off-campus in order to get the care they need to be successful students. Fortunately, the protection of pre-existing conditions makes it easier for students to obtain and afford health insurance. We need to keep these protections in place in order to keep student health care available and affordable for students at UTD.

With 4.5 million Texans living with pre-existing conditions, it is imperative that lawmakers secure these protections. Without these protections, insurance companies could discriminate against individuals with conditions like depression and anxiety. Before the Affordable Care Act became law, insurers could deny coverage or charge people suffering from conditions like cancer, diabetes, asthma, pregnancy and mental health issues far higher premiums — in many cases making it impossible for them to afford health insurance altogether. This could make it extremely difficult for students to be able to afford care off-campus, and further burden UTD’s already overwhelmed institutions.

In a recent debate with Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that he wants to protect pre-existing conditions, which is peculiar because he is the author of the Cruz Amendment in Congress which would have allowed insurers to sell plans that didn’t cover pre-existing conditions. Whether it be ignorance or conniving political strategy, Sen. Cruz’s actions don’t match his promises.

Health care reform is a hot topic right now, but the focus of public debate should be on how we can build on the successes of the ACA to improve access and reduce costs, not repeal the law and go back to the cruelty of our old insurance system. Lawmakers and candidates should focus instead on providing coverage for the most vulnerable and improving women’s health.

In 2015, Texas had the highest rate of uninsured people of any state, at 17 percent of its population, according to Census estimates. A major component of the ACA was to protect and expand Medicaid to provide affordable healthcare to the poorest in the state. According to the Urban Institute, in Texas, the expansion of Medicaid would extend coverage to more than 1.6 million individuals. Health insurance, for the vulnerable population who cannot afford it, saves lives by providing earlier interventions for better health outcomes, and reduces the number of people facing bankruptcy and medical debt. A recent Center for American Medicaid Analysis shows that expanding Medicaid in Texas would prevent more than 3,500 Texans from dying prematurely every year and would reduce Texas families’ medical debt by more than $1.5 billion.

We also need to do more to protect Texas women. Per the United Health Foundation, of all the 50 states, Texas ranks third to last in women’s health and last in policies affecting women’s health. The Texas maternal mortality rate in 2014 was 23.8 per 100,000, a 27 percent increase from 2000 and the worst rate of all other U.S. states and developed countries, according to the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. We need elected officials who will stand up to the Trump administration’s efforts to turn back the clock on family planning and access to reproductive health care, as the government has no business making these health decisions for another woman. The ACA provides preventative services such as annual mammogram visits and free birth control. It also forbids insurers from charging women higher insurance premiums based on their sex. Texas’s poor record on women’s health is another important reason for why we need to preserve and improve the ACA.

Protecting and expanding the ACA is the only way to protect health care access. It ensures minimum health benefits, subsidizes premiums to make health insurance more affordable and expands Medicaid to expand access. Unless the Republican replacement ensures the same guarantees by lowering costs, the biggest barrier to healthcare access, it cannot hope to maintain access like the ACA has done. Anyone claiming otherwise is trying to sell you a magic pill that will not deliver. Our generation has the ability to make Texas a leader on health care. Young adults have the lowest voter turnout, but I hope you’ll make your voice heard in this year’s important elections and change that pattern.

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