by Vasilis Frangiskos
Mar 08, 2021
Vasilis Frangiskos spent a few years in Texas. Now back in Greece, he details one of the ‘strange’ things he noted while there, a tendency to shoot one’s self in foot.
Texas leads the nation in a very grim statistic, that is, approximately 29% of adults had no health insurance in May 2020, a figure that is the highest in all fifty states. The pandemic can be party blamed for the situation. It is estimated that job losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic deprived some 659,000 Texans of their health insurance between February and May 2020 (according to the BLA, the unemployment rate in Texas reached 13.5% in April 2020). To make things worse, Texas is one of the states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage to poorer people, thus rendering health insurance a daunting challenge to confront.
Even before the pandemic took its toll, the number of Texans lacking health insurance was unacceptably high. Despite this fact, the State’s Republican government did not seem to be really interested in doing anything to deal with the problem (supposing that they considered it to be a problem). Not only did Texas decide not to expand Medicaid coverage, as noted above, but it also embarked on an effort to abolish the Affordable Care Act through the courts and strip health insurance from even more people. In the paragraphs below, we will briefly look at how the whole story started.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump, continuing the years-long Republican effort to undo the health law, promised his base that he would repeal and replace the disastrous unaffordable care act and introduce something great, beautiful, and a lot cheaper. In 2017, the Senate, controlled at the time by Republicans, failed repeatedly to pass an Obamacare repeal bill and simply managed to repeal the individual mandate in December 2017 when the Tax Bill was passed (the individual mandate was the obligation to purchase health insurance or risk paying a fine).
In July 2017, repeal efforts suffered a 49-51 defeat with three Republican senators, namely John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski, voting against it, prompting Trump to tweet “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode, then deal. Watch!” (July 28, 2017). One would expect that following this outcome, Republicans would finally cease and desist. But no! After all, there is Texas.
Texas carries on the fight
In 2018, the Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton decided that it was time to try to achieve through the courts what could not be done through the normal legislative process: file a lawsuit and get rid of the Affordable Care Act once and for all. Paxton led a team of red states which basically argued that since Congress had abolished the individual mandate, the specific ACA provision was unconstitutional and so was the rest of the law.
Most legal scholars thought the Texas lawsuit was rather frivolous and weak. Some even considered it an attempt to read the minds of members of Congress who had not repealed ACA but only its individual mandate provision when they passed the Tax Bill. (Texas practically argued that Congress abolished the mandate not as part of the tax law, but with the intention of rendering the ACA null and void.)
However frivolous the lawsuit may have been, it succeeded. In December 2018 in Fort Worth, the conservative U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor accepted the arguments of the Texas coalition and struck ACA down as unconstitutional. The ruling was appealed by states that came to the defense of the ACA (led by California), but the conservative-leaning U.S 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that heard the appeal ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional.
As far as the rest of the law was concerned, the Court sent it back to the Texas federal district court, charging O’Connor with reexamining how much of the ACA might stand without the individual mandate provision. The case naturally ended up before the Supreme Court of the United States which is now conservative after Ginsburg’s death and the Trump appointments. How the Court will rule remains to be seen.
A mind-boggling lack of concern
It is really mind-boggling how a state with so many uninsured people who find it difficult to have access to much needed health care or medication, with a $7.25 minimum wage, no Medicaid expansion, and high levels of income inequality would try so hard to make things even worse for the less fortunate of its citizens. It is hard to understand why Texas would proceed with its attempt to gut the ACA while nothing existed to replace it with. Of course, Texas Republicans, as well as Trump, claimed that they would have a beautiful health care plan that would be affordable and cover people with preexisting conditions, but there is little evidence that such a plan actually exists.
It is probably clear that the post-Reagan Republican party has no intention whatsoever of improving the lives of ordinary men and women. What is not clear is why so many people fail to realize it and vote against their best interests. As far as healthcare is concerned, I have met many Texans who could not afford to see a doctor and relied on family and friends for “medical” advice, or who could not pay for their medication at all or bought the necessary pills for a month and then tried to make them last for two or three months.
Yet, they all believed that the current way of doing things was preferable to the alternative of universal coverage or “socialized medicine” because this alternative was “socialist” and would eventually pave the way for communism. What has led to such a distorted perception of reality? Is it a lack of reliable information? Lack of education? Alt-right propaganda? Or something more sinister? I am afraid there is no easy answer. But one thing is certain: making any meaningful and positive change will be an uphill battle.
Vasilis Frangiskos is a DAGR Communications Committee writer-researcher. When not writing for DAGR, he teaches business and high-level English online. He can be reached at [email protected]