By Steve Taylor
Rio Grande Guardian
McALLEN — A community organizer says Gov. Rick Perry’s opposition to expanding Medicaid could be based on the fact that tens of thousands of people who would benefit live south of I-10 and are Hispanic.
Emi Zuniga, who heads the Texas Organizing Project in the Rio Grande Valley, spoke about the influence of ethnicity and race in health care funding in an interview with the Guardian at a pro-Medicaid news conference in McAllen on Monday morning.
“I think race may be playing a large part in Governor Perry’s opposition to Medicaid for adults,” Zuniga said. “Many of the people who will benefit from expanding Medicaid live south of I-10. Our people are south of I-10.”
Perry has said he opposes Medicaid because he does not want more mandates being imposed in states by the federal government. He has called “Obamacare” a “power grab.” He has said Medicaid is broken and needs fixing. According to the governor, expanding Medicaid would be like “adding a thousand people to the Titanic.”
Zuniga responded that Perry should visit South Texas and witness the plight of its residents. She said he would soon see that a huge percentage of the population cannot afford private health insurance. She pointed out 42 percent of residents living in Hidalgo County lack health insurance.
Zuniga said Texas is now a minority-majority run state and the days when Latinos, including those living along the border, could be ignored are long gone.
“Our people have been without a voice for a very long time. That is going to change. The last election proved Latinos make up a very large minority in the country and we are not going to sit back and take it anymore,” Zuniga said.
The news conference, which was held outside El Milagro Clinic in McAllen, was hosted by the RGV Equal Voice Network. The Texas Organizing Project is a member of Equal Voice.
Participants at the news conference pointed to independent studies that show hospitals, doctors and other health care providers in the Rio Grande Valley would receive an additional $600 million to treat adults in an expanded Medicaid program.
They also referenced a major rally in support of expanding Medicaid which will be held at the state Capitol on Tuesday morning. Around 120 Equal Voice members will be attending the rally, getting up early to catch a bus at 3 a.m.
Some of those attending the rally from the Valley will tell their own story on why Medicaid should be expanded. Zuniga is slated to attend the rally. She said her father died of complications from diabetes and received healthcare treatment because he was over 65 and thus eligible for Medicaid. She said many others in the Valley are less fortunate.
Zuniga said her mother would like to undergo a test to see if she has breast cancer but cannot do so because she lacks health insurance. “At present, my mother does not qualify for Medicaid but she would qualify with this expansion. There are tens of thousands of hardworking Texans that are being robbed of a quality healthcare system,” Zuniga said.
Zuniga said she hopes minority groups across the state will unite in opposition to Gov. Perry on the issue of expanding Medicaid.
“TOP has chapters in Houston and Dallas and there are so many people from Dallas and Houston and here in the Valley who are going to be at the rally at the Capitol. Our people should not die because they cannot figure out if the lump they have is cancer. Or because they have diabetes and have no health insurance,” Zuniga said.
Asked to expand on her thoughts that Gov. Perry could be opposing Medicaid because it will largely benefit Hispanics, Zuniga said…