AUTSIN (Nexstar) — On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott addressed the state from Houston Methodist Hospital, touting the hospital’s vaccination distribution as a model for the rest of the state.
In addition to providing an update to the statewide vaccination rollout, the governor also addressed what his priorities for health care will be going forward.
“We also discussed some lessons learned from COVID to build a healthier Texas as we move forward through the course of this pandemic, and importantly, after the pandemic,” Abbott said, explaining his roundtable discussion first began with health professionals around the state about lessons learned from the pandemic response.
“Those conversations included issues such as ensuring that we are going to have the capability of maintaining ongoing supply chain availability for PPE in the future,” Abbott explained, adding this is important so the state doesn’t end up with inadequate personal protective equipment for future health crises.
“We talked about the value that we have come to appreciate by accessing and using telehealth, and we want to continue to expand the use of telehealth as we move forward,” Abbott said. This expansion would last beyond just the pandemic.
Finally, Abbott addressed the need for increased mental health care services.
“There are unique mental health needs as a consequence of the pandemic. But even before and after the pandemic, there are mental health needs of the state of Texas needs to work collaboratively with our medical professionals to make sure that we step up and fully address those mental health needs,” Abbott said.
While Democrats are willing to support these three notions and agree they’re all important, they’re calling for one major item to be added to the top of the governor’s list.
“Ultimately, what the governor missed in his statement, and that has to be the number one priority, when it comes to health care is making sure everyone has access to health care in this state. And to do that we have to expand Medicaid,” Rep. John Bucy III, a Democrat representing Williamson County, explained Tuesday.
Bucy said the expansion would lead to 2.2 million Texans gaining access to health care.
“It’s 2.2 million Texans who are working Texans but don’t make enough to qualify to buy their own health insurance and make too much to qualify under the current plan. It’s the expansion to fill in that gap. And it’s 110 billion of our Texas tax dollars coming back to us,” Bucy explained.
Democrats have been calling for this expansion for years, though. But because of the pandemic, it’s garnering hope for bipartisan support this session.
“It’s really come to light the struggles and lack of access to health care, so many Texans have, whether that’s the uninsured or individuals in rural Texas,” Bucy said. “We’ve seen bipartisan support from some of the Republican colleagues in their campaigns. And I assume that they’re now that they’re here. They’re going to live up to those commitments from the campaign.”
Republican Speaker of the House Dade Phelan said last week he’s open to hearing arguments to make improvements to the existing Medicaid program, but stopped short of supporting ‘expanding’ it.