New Study Estimates the Impact the Affordable Care Act will have on Texas Counties

By Kevin C. Moriarty

The fervor the U.S. Supreme Court decision over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) this summer caused is understandable given how drastically the law is expected to change our healthcare delivery system.

Since then, pundits, scholars, and people on all sides of the issue have offered wildly different estimates on who the law would actually help. Now, thanks to Dr. Michael Cline and Dr. Steve Murdock of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, Texans don’t need to speculate. There is data that illustrates who would benefit in our state.

Methodist Healthcare Ministries commissioned a study authored by Dr. Cline and Dr. Murdock—who once served as the official State Demographer of Texas (in case you were wondering why the name sounded familiar)—to help us better understand how the new law would impact our community.

Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation. This unfortunate ranking is not necessarily breaking news; it’s a distinction our state has earned in the past. But, it’s worth mentioning since the U.S. Census Bureau just recently released 2010 Census data that confirms our unfortunate standing in the nation. So how many uninsured Texans does it take to put our state nearly dead last? As of 2010, an estimated 23.7 percent of all Texans (5.9 million people) had no health insurance coverage. Given our numbers, it stands to reason, that we have a lot to gain from the ACA.

According to Dr. Cline and Dr. Murdock, in the study titled Estimates of the Impact of the Affordable Care Act on Counties in Texas, if Texas implemented the new law—even with a moderate effort to increase enrollment in public and private health insurance— by 2014 every county in Texas would see a decrease in the number of uninsured people. The total number of uninsured people in our state would essentially be cut in half; from 5.9 million to 2.9 million. Nearly 3 million people in our state stand to gain from the ACA due to the expansion of Medicaid and the accessibility of affordable health insurance through the private sector.

According to the two researchers, all this is largely dependent upon the efforts of the State and healthcare advocates enrolling people in public health insurance (Medicaid and CHIP), and how well the health insurance exchange is developed and marketed. The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) has further analyzed the data and summarized the key findings in a brief titled Choices and Challenges: How Texas County Uninsured Rates Will Drop Under Health Care Reform. That brief also includes some recommendations on how the state can leverage the ACA to reduce its uninsured rate.

Aside from the sheer number of people who would benefit, health care as an industry will also realize tremendous gains through expanded funding of previously uninsured patient visits.

As a healthcare provider, we here at MHM know this law will make an important difference in peoples’ lives based on what we hear time and again from those served in our clinics and the programs we support throughout South Texas. The difference between paying rent, or getting health care; buying food or getting much-needed medicines. The findings in this study make the choices before our policy makers clear, and invite them to make that difference for three million Texans.

We are ready to do our part to help our community realize all the ACA has to offer. We hope our legislators are ready too.