About 500 people from all over Texas on Friday, September 21 converged on Austin and marched into the State Capitol to ask Gov. Rick Perry why he rejected federal funding that would have expanded Medicaid access to two million Texans.
Before the demonstrators entered the Capitol, Durrel Douglas of the Texas Organizing Project, explained what they wanted to hear from Gov. Perry.
“We want to know: if you’re turning away this option, what is your plan?” asked Douglas “And how do you plan to fill this gaping hole, where there are millions of people who don’t have health care? Because throwing two million Texans under the bus is not the way to go.”
The federal funds that Gov. Perry has rejected were made available through the Affordable Care Act, which among other things provides federal funding to expand Medicaid to low-income working people. State participation is voluntary, and Gov. Perry said that Texas will not participate.
One of those people affected by Gov. Perry’s decision is Gladys Vasquez, a home health care worker in Houston who makes $9 an hour–not enough to be able to afford health insurance but too much to qualify for Medicaid.
“I am working 45 or 50 hours a week, and when I get sick, I don’t like to see the doctor, because if I don’t die from the sickness, I die when I see the bill for the doctor,” Vasquez said.
About one-quarter of Texas’ 25 million residents lack health insurance, the highest rate among all 50 states.
A study commissioned by the Methodist Healthcare Ministries in South Texas concludes that expanding Medicaid as proposed by the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of uncovered Texans by half.
Gov. Perry said that it would cost too much to expand Medicaid to low-income working people; however, the federal government pays the full cost of the expansion for three years. After that, the state’s share would be 10 percent.
“When you have a governor of a state that has the worst health care in the nation, that tells Gladys Vasquez, ‘I’m sorry, these options that would expand health care for my state: I don’t want them, for my political reasons. You’re on your own’. That’s insensitive, illogical, not fair,” Douglas said.
The demonstrators had planned to confront Perry in his office and ask him directly why he was throwing so many Texans under the bus. However, after they entered his office, they were told by a Department of Public Safety officer that Gov. Perry was not available because he doesn’t work on Friday’s.
The demonstrators, nevertheless, left their message with his staff and regrouped at the nearby headquarters of the Texas AFL-CIO.
The demonstrators included community activists from the Texas Organizing Project, Good Jobs = Great Houston, disability advocates including members of ADAPT and Texas Adults with Autism and Intellectual Disabilities, and union members from SEIU, the Texas State Employees Union/CWA Local 6186, IBEW, the state AFL-CIO and others.
After regrouping at the state AFL-CIO building, the demonstrators marched about seven blocks to the University of Texas campus where Gov. Perry was scheduled to deliver a speech.
Demonstrators gathered at the entrance of the conference center where the governor was planning to speak and chanted, “Perry makes me sick” and “health care now.”
“I’m happy that (Gov. Perry) has a good life and that he has everything made, and you know, where he’s at and where he’s from,” said Mayra Hurtado of Dallas to KERA. “But what about all these other people out here, the Texans and everybody who’s surviving barely on a day-to-day basis? What about us?”