A group of about 20 people gathered in Southeast Austin on a chilly Saturday morning to knock on doors in nearby neighborhoods. The #SickOfItTX event was one of seven across the state aimed at organizing Texans around the state's uninsured rate, which is the highest in the country.
Laura Guerra-Cardus, deputy director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas and one of the campaign's organizers, said about 100 people signed up to canvass in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Austin, Galveston, McAllen and Fort Worth. She said they plan to collect as many stories as they can in the hopes lawmakers will start to listen to concerns about the state’s health coverage crisis.
“Advocacy organizations really feel like enough is enough,” Guerra-Cardus said. “And if the Legislature won’t listen to us, then our new audience is going to be Texans – everyday Texans.”
In the past few years, Texas’ high uninsured rate has been getting worse. It has also climbed among children and women of child-bearing age. During this year’s legislative session, advocates urged lawmakers to extend Medicaid for women who recently gave birth to a year of coverage. Currently, women are kicked out of the program just 60 days after having a baby.
They also asked lawmakers to reduce the paperwork required for children on Medicaid. Studies have shown an increase in how often families have to prove they qualify for the program. Those changes have led to an uptick in children getting kicked off Medicaid – even though they're qualified for coverage.
Lawmakers didn’t do either.
Texas also remains among a minority of states that have refused to expand Medicaid to more low-income people through the Affordable Care Act.
That’s why – along with the Texas Organizing Project and the Center for Public Policy Priorities – Guerra-Cardus’ group launched the issues-based nonpartisan campaign. She said the point is to knock on doors and get people to talk about the state’s coverage crisis.
And block walking is just the beginning.
“This is going to be year-round organizing,” Guerra-Cardus said. “And our very next step is to take the stories we are hearing today to our policymakers and 2020 state candidates.”
Mimi Garcia and Becky Bullard were among the volunteers collecting stories. While knocking on doors, they met Nina Torres, who currently doesn't have health insurance.
Torres said she’s having a hard time getting coverage through her husband’s employer now that she’s opened her own business. Garcia and Bullard suggested she look into the Obamacare marketplace, which could offer coverage in the meantime. Even if she signs up immediately, though, the insurance won’t kick in until January.
Torres said not having coverage has been stressful. She said even if she feels really sick, she tries to avoid going to the hospital or a doctor.
“I wait until the very last minute – unless I absolutely need to go,” she said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 18% of Texans were uninsured last year. At one point the state's rate was as low as 16%, but under the Trump administration, it has has been climbing.
“[Lawmakers] have to pay attention to this,” Guerra-Cardus said. “Because us working directly with policymakers … is not working. And so, if we are the wrong messengers, then maybe the people of Texas will be the right messengers.”