Thu April 30, 2015 5:11 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

Texas ACA

Even with Texas turning its back on the health care exchanges and an expansion of Medicaid as proposed by the Affordable Care Act, about 1.7 million individual Texans have gained health insurance coverage under the controversial federal law.

A new study found the percent of uninsured Texans fell from almost 25 percent in September 2013 to 17 percent in March 2015, with almost the entire decline in uninsured occurring because individuals purchased health insurance subsidized by the federal government. But a pending U.S. Supreme Court case—King v. Burwell—could easily wipe out those gains in paying for healthcare in the state. 

The above map shows the areas of the state where the most people are who have bought insurance on their own. The map, produced by the advocacy group Community Catalyst is hosted by the Texas Center for Public Policy Priorities. People with health insurance are more likely to have a regular physician for minor illnesses and preventative care. The ACA often is referred to as Obamacare.

The new study by the Rice University Baker Institute and the Episcopal Health Foundation found most of the gains in health insurance coverage occurred after the ACA Marketplace opened in September 2013.

Texas had led the nation in the percentage of the population lacking health insurance, and its percentage of people who gained insurance on the exchange was about on par with other states that refused to expand Medicaid eligibility. But for those states that did expand eligibility, the average percentage of their uninsured population dropped from about 16 percent to 7.5 percent.

People with incomes between 139-399 percent of the federal poverty level decreased the percentage of uninsured by 44.5 percent, but the lowest income Texans cut their numbers of uninsured by just less than 20 percent. “The ACA was intended to provide coverage opportunities to the lowest income Americans through Medicaid expansion and without such, these Texans are likely to remain uninsured,” the report said. (Note: 139 percent of the federal poverty level is about $33,465 a year for a family of four.) 

Texas leaders have refused to follow ACA guidelines for Medicaid expansion, claiming it would cost the state and additional $15.6 billion over 10 years. Here is the estimate that was put out in 2013 by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Medicaid expansion

Republicans have repeatedly tried to undermine or overturn Obamacare, but the Washington Examiner reported earlier this week that congressional Republicans are now worried about blow-back in the 2016 elections if millions of Americans lose health insurance when the King v. Burwell ruling comes down from the Supreme Court in the next several weeks. The plaintiffs in the case argue that the text of Obamacare only makes federal subsidies available to people in states that set up health care exchanges for the purchase of insurance. Only 16 states set up exchanges, and Texas is not one of them. An estimated 13.4 million Americans could lose their health insurance subsidy of the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs.

The Washington Examiner reported earlier this week that congressional Republicans are looking for a “fix” to keep the subsidies going if the Supreme Court knocks them down. 


Thu April 30, 2015 9:53 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Property tax appraisals going out around Texas right now likely will give a boost to the Senate’s property tax cut proposals over the House plan for sales tax cuts. But a look at some of the appraisals show the Senate plan is too little to make a real difference to homeowners in fast growth areas. And an honest look at the state of the state’s economy finds the House plan borders on fiscal irresponsibility rather than fiscal conservatism.

The Texas economy is poised for a contraction, and, with that, comes a major decline in state government revenues. This may not be the time for tax cuts, even if this KPRC-TV map clearly shows the pain of rising appraisals, at least in Harris County. For an interactive version, click here.

KPRC Tax Map


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Wed April 29, 2015 4:56 pm By Erica Grieder

Greg Abbott’s announcement yesterday, that he would direct the Texas State Guard to monitor Operation Jade Helm this summer, has been widely derided as political pandering, stoking paranoia, wasting state resources, and making Texas look silly. Way harsh, guys. A little harsh, at least.

First things first. There is no evidence that the forthcoming military exercise known as Operation Jade Helm 15 is part of a sinister plot to impose martial law on the United States–and although I’m not a huge fan of the president, I’d like to think that if Barack Obama was colluding with the Pentagon on such a scheme they’d be more skillful about camouflaging it. So the more lurid conspiracy theories swirling around about the exercise are just that.

At the same time, let’s be fair to our friends on the fringe here. This isn’t the same as Judicial Watch making up a story about an ISIS training camp in Juarez. Jade Helm, as planned, is an interstate exercise in which Green Berets and Navy SEALs are going to practice “emerging concepts in special operations warfare” in environments selected because they offer a reasonably realistic approximation of conditions the military would anticipate encountering in hostile territory abroad. It makes sense for the military to stage such training exercises, and this isn’t the first time they’ve done so–personally, I think it’s pretty cool. But when that’s the official explanation for an operation seemingly named after a Bond girl the Army should probably expect some questions from concerned citizens.

Based on the Statesman’s account of the Bastrop County Commissioner’s meeting Monday, it sounds like the Army officer on hand, LTC Mark Lastoria, did a good job of explaining the purpose of the operation and how local residents specifically might be affected. Less clear, at least to me, is whether the community as a whole was being unduly conspiratorial, as opposed to reasonably curious. Several of the 150 attendees, according to the Statesman, had tinfoil-hat type questions about whether the Army is trying to confiscate people’s guns and so on. Others may just have been wondering whether to make note of any planned amphibious landings at Lost Pines, or trying to assess the risk of cross-fire at Buc-ees.

The latter type of concern is not deranged, especially coming from civilians who may have had little personal experience with the military or military personnel. And Abbott’s announcement is apparently in response to such concerns, rather than those being fueled by the right-wing fear machine. His letter to the commander of the Texas State Guard casts their role as mostly a matter of public relations; to paraphrase, Abbott notes that US Special Operations Command has already assured the state that there will be no risks to the safety of residents, or their rights, but he wants the Texas State Guard to keep an eye on the situation, just in case. (This is why, somewhat perversely, the letter has only agitated the most serious conspiracy theorists, who suspect that Abbott, already complicit in the plot against freedom, is trying to pull the wool further over everyone’s eyes.)

Activating the Texas State Guard in such a situation would entail some costs to the state (from current appropriations) and I wouldn’t call it the best use of state resources. Other than that, though, I don’t really see the harm. If the presence of state troops is in itself unduly menacing, the same could be said of the Navy SEALs. If national observers see the announcement as overtly contentious, I suppose that’s their prerogative, but maybe they can take comfort in the fact that Texas’s new governor thinks state government has a role to play in providing government oversight. And either way, there’s a silver lining: this simulation is off to a great start!

Wed April 29, 2015 9:12 am By R.G. Ratcliffe


The first report of golf ball-sized hail came into the Hidalgo County sheriff’s office at 5:20 p.m. on April 20, 2012. Within minutes, another report arrived of baseball-sized hail in Mission, with the winds blowing 50 miles per hour. Over the next 20 minutes, drivers tried to crowd their cars under business awnings. Windows were shattered. Hail knocked holes in rooftops. Unfortunate animals were beaten to death. The storm was a second wallop for the Lower Rio Grande Valley as it recovered from a similar storm a month earlier. The McAllen Monitor reported that the insurance industry paid out $556 million in claims to homeowners and another $47 million to vehicle owners.

Then the lawsuits began. There were thousands of lawsuits against insurance companies and adjusters, alleging low-ball payments on claims. These lawsuits led to Senate Bill 1628 by Senator Larry Taylor of Friendswood currently on the Intent Calendar for possible debate as early as today.

This legislation has pitted tort reform groups representing the insurance industry against the trial lawyers in what has become a biennial legislative rivalry. What makes this fight different this year is that there are major Texas businesses taking the trial lawyers’ side of the argument: car dealerships with vulnerable inventories of vehicles on open lots, Trammel Crow Residential, Centex Homes, Sovereign Bank and La Quinta Inns & Suites.

“My business clients have no interest in pursuing frivolous claims nor do they ever wish to engage in lawsuit abuse. However, they do expect the legislature to protect their interests against insurance companies which unfairly deny or delay legitimate claims,” wrote Dallas Haynes and Boone lawyer Ernest Martin Jr. in a letter delivered to senators last week on behalf of the businesses. Martin said his clients are worried about the “unintended consequences of a bill that does much more harm to business interests than it does to curb perceived abused in a single category of hailstorm claims.”

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Tue April 28, 2015 6:58 pm By Erica Grieder

Watching the Texas House today, I found myself wondering whether it would be sacrilegious and/or offensive to thank the Lord Jesus for Joe Straus, who as Speaker of the Texas House is effectively running state government right now.  

The main event on the floor, as R.G. previewed this morning, was the preliminary passage of two tax bills authored by Ways & Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen, one proposing a cut to the state sales tax rate, the other to the franchise tax rate. Taken together, the result would be $4.9 billion in biennial tax cuts, and a number of Democrats, including Donna Howard, Chris Turner, Sylvester Turner, and Armando Walle, offered cogent arguments against making such cuts, especially at a moment when the state economy is vulnerable as a result of lowish oil prices, and with the school finance ruling still pending.

Since this is Texas, however, the tax cuts passed. The only surprise was in the lopsided margins. 141 legislators voted for HB 31, the sales tax bill; no one voted against it. More than half the Democrats in the chamber voted against the franchise tax cuts, HB 32, but it nonetheless passed easily, 116-29. Perhaps most significant at all was a vote cast during the debate over the latter bill itself.

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