Texas: Most uninsured, most votes against bill
01:58 PM CDT on Monday, March 22, 2010
By DAVE MICHAELS / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON –The state with the most to gain from a health insurance overhaul was also the state with the most lawmakers who voted against the bill on Sunday.
Twenty-one of 32 lawmakers from Texas, including 20 Republicans, voted against the measure. The opponents said the legislation was overwhelmingly unpopular in their districts, although it would offer insurance to more than half of Texas' 6 million uninsured.
"My vote reflects not only my concerns, but also those of the vast majority of people in my district," said Rep. Chet Edwards of Waco, who was the only Texas Democrat voting against the measure.
The vote took place on a day when protesters, a few waving Texas flags, gathered outside the Capitol and chanted "Kill the Bill." Several Republicans, including Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas, courted the crowd from a balcony near the House floor, rallying them to cry louder.
Sessions, whose district has more uninsured than any other GOP-controlled district, said the $940 billion bill was too expensive and would boomerang back to hurt Democrats in midterm elections. The Republicans' specific concerns include that it would require that most Americans obtain insurance and penalize businesses with more than 50 workers that don't offer it.
"What is being sold is deceptive," said Sessions, who noted that 23 million people would remain uninsured even if the measure becomes law. "The Obama and Pelosi agenda is deadly for employers."
For most of the state's 12 Democrats, the vote was not a difficult one. Many represent districts with high uninsured rates, and many of those uninsured are workers whose employers don't offer insurance.
"This is one of the few ways of coming to grips with that issue," said Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio.
The legislation would extend insurance coverage through an expansion of government-run insurance and new tax credits for private insurance.
The bill would expand the Medicaid program to cover as many as 1.3 million low-income Texas adults. Separately, more than 2 million Texans who go without coverage today would qualify to buy subsidized, private insurance through a new health insurance exchange, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a think tank in Austin.
Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, said Texas could see more new federal funding as a result of health reform than any other state. Green, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill would make insurance affordable for small businesses in Texas, the majority of which don't offer health insurance.
Democrats have said people who already have employer-sponsored insurance won't be affected. But the legislation would reduce payments to insurance plans that offer Medicare Advantage and would cut Medicare payment rates for most services.
"Ninety percent of my calls are against it, and it's mainly people who don't believe this is not going to affect the insurance they're on," said Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell.
The Congressional Budget Office, which scores the fiscal impact of legislation, said this week that the bill would offer coverage to 32 million uninsured. While extending coverage would cost $784 billion over the next decade, the legislation overall would reduce federal deficits by $138 billion over 10 years, the CBO said.
Some critics of the fiscal score have pointed to its many assumptions, including the revenue that would result from a new tax on high-cost health plans. But the tax wouldn't kick in until 2018, meaning future Congresses would have plenty of time to repeal or change it.
Edwards said Sunday that some of his opposition springs from doubts about the CBO's projections.
"I just don't believe that anyone can make a 10-year projection on something this complex with 100 percent certainty," Edwards said.