In Texas, Extra Folks Are Dropping Their Well being Insurance coverage as COVID Circumstances Climb

This story is a part of a partnership that features KUT, NPR and Kaiser Well being Information.

This story will be republished without cost (particulars).

Steve Alvarez began feeling sick round Father’s Day weekend this yr. His signs began as delicate, however developed right into a fever, chills and shortness of breath he couldn’t shake.

“Simply once I began to get to feeling higher and I’d have a few good days,” Alvarez stated. “I felt like I’d backtrack and I used to be simply actually run down. This factor lingered and lingered.”

Alvarez, a Tejano musician who lives within the San Antonio space, stated he finally acquired a free COVID-19 take a look at supplied by the town of San Antonio. Per week later, he came upon he examined optimistic for the coronavirus.

Steve Alvarez stands together with his spouse, Regina. Alvarez is a Tejano musician who had no medical health insurance when he was identified with COVID-19. Cash has been tight as a result of the pandemic dried up his musical gigs.(Credit score: Vic G’s Pictures)

Alvarez and his spouse — who additionally grew to become contaminated — by no means ended up within the hospital, they usually really feel positive now. However, he stated, there have been some scary days — he is aware of lots of people who acquired sick with COVID-19. A good friend round his age — mid- to late 40s — has been in an ICU and on a ventilator for weeks now.

However it was not simply their well being that frightened Alvarez. Monetary fears loomed massive, too.

“We thought if one thing occurs and this begins getting a lot worse, we have to begin serious about how we’re going to take care of it, how we’re going to pay for it,” he stated. “It was simply abject terror as to what was going to occur and what we had been going to do.”

Cash is tight as a result of the pandemic shut down most of his musical gigs. Alvarez additionally misplaced his medical health insurance a yr in the past when he was laid off from his day job in development security. Whereas he was sick with the coronavirus he paid for distant physician visits, some prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs all out-of-pocket, he stated.

“I exploit low cost playing cards for these prescriptions as a lot as doable,” Alvarez stated. “If one thing isn’t generic, that’s simply completely too costly, I’ve to contemplate doing with out it.”

Texas’ uninsured fee has been climbing together with its unemployment fee as COVID instances additionally surge within the state. Earlier than the pandemic, Texas already had the very best fee and largest variety of folks with out insurance coverage amongst all states. And 20% of all uninsured kids within the U.S. stay in Texas.

The uninsurance drawback has solely gotten worse in Texas in 2020. In response to latest information from Households USA, a client well being advocacy group that supported the Reasonably priced Care Act, 29% of Texas adults below 65 don’t have medical health insurance thus far this yr.

The group discovered that about 659,000 folks within the state grew to become uninsured between February and Might as job losses soared. Texas is one among 13 states that has not expanded Medicaid below the ACA.

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“Texans who lose their medical health insurance that’s tied to jobs merely have fewer choices for brand spanking new insurance coverage as a result of we don’t have Medicaid growth,” stated Elena Marks, the president and chief govt officer of the Episcopal Well being Basis in Houston.

Republican leaders in Texas have lengthy refused to broaden well being protection to extra low-income adults by way of Medicaid, regardless of the state’s having had the very best uninsured fee within the nation for years.

Marks stated the pandemic has made the state’s current medical health insurance disaster a lot worse.

“All the pieces that’s taking place now was taking place earlier than — it’s simply on a path of acceleration,” she stated, as a result of there are “so many extra people who find themselves sick and who’re getting very sick and the prices are very costly.”

And that is hurting sufferers. Stacey Pogue, a senior coverage analyst at a assume tank in Austin known as Each Texan, stated uninsured Texans might face steep prices for COVID remedy and testing.

Though some Texans are capable of finding free COVID-19 testing, others have needed to pay as a lot as just a few hundred {dollars}. Pogue stated for people who find themselves already financially strained, that’s prohibitively costly.

“We have to do every thing we are able to to verify individuals are not afraid to get examined due to value, or should not afraid to get remedy due to value,” she stated. “And states like Texas with such an enormous uninsured inhabitants, that’s an enormous barrier to our public well being response.”

And when uninsured, poor Texans haven’t any alternative however to go to the hospital, these hospitals find yourself with a lot of the associated fee.

John Hawkins, senior vp for advocacy and public coverage on the Texas Hospital Affiliation, stated that even earlier than the pandemic the price of care supplied to folks with out insurance coverage in Texas hospitals amounted to greater than $7 billion a yr.

“We’ve been capable of make it work, frankly, due to the expansion within the state,” he stated. “However as we have a look at COVID going ahead, it actually does make the case that we now have to have a look at addressing the protection piece.”

Hawkins stated federal aid cash shall be directed to well being care suppliers within the coming months. Long run, nonetheless, he stated that is unsustainable for Texas hospitals. If unaddressed, this monetary burden on hospitals might result in future cuts and probably closures, he warned.

If state lawmakers don’t begin addressing the state’s protection points quickly, Hawkins predicted, it would grow to be a major challenge in the course of the state’s upcoming legislative session early subsequent yr.

Even earlier than the pandemic, well being care advocates within the state had begun organizing in an effort to make Texas’ uninsured fee a political legal responsibility for state lawmakers in November.

And for Texans at present dwelling with out insurance coverage, not having well being care protection has been an added monetary stressor.

Alvarez stated he and his household are already doing every thing they will to defer funds and usher in cash in order that they don’t lose their home.

“However that backside goes to fall out quickly sufficient,” he stated. “And that’s what I’m actually dreading proper now. And I do know that that’s not an unusual factor that’s happening.”

This story is a part of NPR’s reporting partnership with KUT and Kaiser Well being Information.

Ashley Lopez, KUT:,

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