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In Texas, More People Are Losing Their Health Insurance as COVID Cases Climb

This story is a part of a partnership that features KUTNPR and Kaiser Health News.

This story might be republished at no cost (details).

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.

“Just when I started to get to feeling better and I would have a couple of good days,” Alvarez stated. “I felt like I’d backtrack and I was just really run down. This thing lingered and lingered.”

Alvarez, a Tejano musician who lives within the San Antonio space, stated he ultimately acquired a free COVID-19 check offered by town of San Antonio. Per week later, he discovered he examined optimistic for the coronavirus.

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

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

But it was not simply their well being that anxious Alvarez. Financial fears loomed giant, too.

“We thought if something happens and this starts getting much worse, we need to start thinking about how we are going to deal with it, how we are going to pay for it,” he stated. “It was just abject terror as to what was going to happen and what we were going to do.”

Money is tight as a result of the pandemic shut down most of his musical gigs. Alvarez additionally misplaced his medical insurance a yr in the past when he was laid off from his day job in building security. While 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 use discount cards for those prescriptions as much as possible,” Alvarez stated. “If something is not generic, that’s just absolutely too expensive, I have to consider doing without it.”

Texas’ uninsured price has been climbing together with its unemployment price as COVID circumstances additionally surge within the state. Before the pandemic, Texas already had the highest rate and largest number of people with out insurance coverage amongst all states. And 20% of all uninsured children within the U.S. reside in Texas.

The uninsurance downside has solely gotten worse in Texas in 2020. According to current information from Families USA, a client well being advocacy group that supported the Affordable Care Act, 29% of Texas adults under 65 don’t have medical insurance up to now this yr.

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

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“Texans who lose their health insurance that is tied to jobs simply have fewer options for new insurance because we do not have Medicaid expansion,” stated Elena Marks, the president and chief govt officer of the Episcopal Health Foundation in Houston.

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

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

“Everything that’s happening now was happening before — it’s just on a path of acceleration,” she stated, as a result of there are “so many more people who are sick and who are getting very sick and the costs are very expensive.”

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

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

“We need to do everything we can to make sure people are not afraid to get tested because of cost, or are not afraid to get treatment because of cost,” she stated. “And states like Texas with such a huge uninsured population, that’s a huge barrier to our public health 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 price.

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

“We’ve been able to make it work, frankly, because of the growth in the state,” he stated. “But as we look at COVID going forward, it really does make the case that we have to look at addressing the coverage piece.”

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

If state lawmakers don’t begin addressing the state’s protection points quickly, Hawkins predicted, it’s going to change into a big situation through 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 price a political legal responsibility for state lawmakers in November.

And for Texans presently 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 all the pieces they’ll to defer funds and usher in cash in order that they don’t lose their home.

“But that bottom is going to fall out soon enough,” he stated. “And that’s what I am really dreading right now. And I know that that’s not an uncommon thing that’s going on.”

This story is a part of NPR’s reporting partnership with KUT and Kaiser Health News.

Ashley Lopez, KUT:”>, @‪AshLopezRa‪dio

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