Op-Ed: Expand Medicaid to protect Texans

As we give thanks and reflect on what we have received in our lives this year, I am thankful that millions of Texas families have the opportunity to sign up for health insurance to keep their loved ones safe and healthy.

Having grown up in the Lower Valley, I have seen how low-wage jobs and unemployment can put hard-working people just one illness away from losing their job, their car, or even their house.

We should never go back to the days when insurance companies decided who gets care and who lives or dies from treatable diseases.

The Affordable Care Act is a game changer and is already changing the lives of Texas families for the better.

It expands coverage for preventive care and screenings.

It extends coverage for young adults, allowing them to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they turn 26.

It forbids insurance companies denying insurance because of preexisting conditions.

It lowers costs for people in the Medicare Part D "doughnut hole."

And it enhances consumer protections against insurance cancellations.

Expanding Medicaid would cover almost 1.7 million Texans, including an estimated 174,000 El Pasoans, according to the Texas Medical Association.

Yet, Rick Perry and Greg Abbott have fought the act at every turn and even refused to accept up to $90 billion over 10 years of our federal tax dollars to expand the current Medicaid program to provide coverage to the working poor.

Accepting these funds is not only good for our state's health, it's great for job creation and our economy.

Economists have found that expanding Medicaid would boost Texas' economic output by $270 billion and create nearly 20,000 jobs while cutting costs for taxpayers

Texas already leads the nation in the percentage of residents without health coverage. We should put these billions of dollars to work keeping Texans healthy.

If we don't, expensive emergency room visits become their primary means of care and everyone pays in higher property taxes for hospital districts.

It's such a no-brainer that even an ultra-conservative governor like Jan Brewer in Arizona agreed to expand Medicaid and take advantage of the "enormous economic benefits" and to "provide health care to hundreds of thousands of low-income Arizonans."

Texans deserve better.

It is time for our elected leaders to stop being obstructionists of the Affordable Care Act and to expand Medicaid for more than a million other uninsured people.

Every day, I see El Pasoans work hard to keep their families healthy, and provide every opportunity possible for their kids to succeed in the world.

That is definitely something to be thankful for this holiday season and we should do everything we can to help them.

State Rep. Mary Gonzalez represents House District 75 in the Texas Legislature.