Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Don't worry about Texas opting out ... yet

The current Senate version of the health care reform package contains a public option as well as a mechanism for states, like Texas, which has a history of denying its citizens adequate health care protections, to opt out of the public option.

There's no question that a majority of Texas political leaders are in bed with the insurance companies. (It should also be noted that many of these same hacks -- I'm trying to discover exactly how many -- are on Medicare, meaning they are denying their constituents the same kind of health insurance they themselves enjoy.) That's one of the reasons Texas leads the nation in the disgraceful category of the most citizens without any health insurance at all -- 24.1 percent.

Yet, polls indicate and overwhelming majority of Texans, like the rest of the country, wants health insurance reforms that will increase competition and provide more quality, affordable options for the middle-class.

So here's the good news: That majority of Texas leaders can't, by themselves, opt Texans out of the public option.

From what I've learned, here's how the reform package will be implemented. The National insurance exchange is phased in and reforms begin taking effect in 2011-2012. The public option begins in 2013. The earliest states can opt out is 2014 and will require a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature to pass an opt-out bill. Thus, to vote in favor of opting out will put legislators in the precarious position of taking away constituents' health insurance, a little dicier proposition than just denying them health care, which they are doing now. Plus, the governor could veto opt-out legislation, but if either Gov. Hair or Sen. Hutch is in the governor's mansion, we know that won't happen.

There's a couple of election cycles between now and 2014. It is incumbent on every editorial board of every newspaper in Texas to include in its interviews with legislative candidates whether they would vote to opt out of a public health care option and report that information to its readers. That question must be posed to any legislative candidate in any public forum. As for me -- and I'm betting many other middle-income and lower-income Texans feel the same way -- a candidate's position on that issue will determine whether he or she will receive my vote. By going to the polls and voting for those candidates who care about the health and well-being of their constituents, we can make sure the legislature never comes close to having the two-thirds majority needed to pass opt-out legislation.

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