Rep. Cuellar: The Fight for Affordable Health Care in Rural Texas
Washington | Rep. Henry Cuellar, June 18, 2019
Many hard-working families in Texas’ 28th District are struggling to afford basic health care coverage. While health care is a vital issue that affects the quality of life of all Americans. It is particularly important in Texas’ rural communities, which house some of the most vulnerable and underserved populations in the U.S. I have worked hard to help families afford health care, but I will continue to fight for access to care for those regions.
While the Affordable Care Act has helped 22 million Americans gain insurance coverage, it is not a sufficient to deal with our country’s health care issues. Texas has the highest uninsured rates in the country; specifically, in my community, 29 percent of all residents are uninsured. Our region also faces high rates of diabetes, substance abuse, mental health disorders, teen pregnancy, cervical cancer, obesity and tuberculosis. We need to help communities like the one I represent.
It is important to recognize that federal funding often misses many hard-hit, chronically poor, rural counties. As a Member of the U.S. House Appropriation Committee, I have worked to bring added federal assistance to counties like Webb, Zapata, Starr, Hidalgo, and La Salle, who have a starkly disproportionate rate of persistent poverty compared to the rest of the nation.
Therefore, I have included appropriations language that directs a set aside of at least 10 percent of federal funding through specific programs for counties where 20 percent or more of the population has lived in poverty over the past 30 years (“persistent poverty areas”). Last year more than $1 billion in federal aid was directed through Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Interior grants to prioritize counties such as ours.
In 2019, I helped secure $43.7 million from the USDA Rural Development Program through the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which provided affordable funding to develop essential community facilities in rural areas. Specifically, this funding developed innovative projects to address the opioid crisis in rural America as well as the Distance Learning and Telemedicine program to help rural communities build local responses to the opioid epidemic.
I have been a strong advocate for community health clinics and medical centers that play a vital role in delivering primary care and preventative care to our region. Last year, I worked with the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee to secure over a billion dollars for Community Health Centers. I also pushed for the inclusion of funding for Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC) in order to reduce child and youth mortality and morbidity resulting from severe illness or trauma.
Lastly, thousands of elderly Texans rely on Medicare to safeguard their physical health during their retirement years. I am committed to strengthening Medicare for our seniors and seeing that the federal government honors that obligation.
Advocating for affordable health care has been a top priority during my time as a public servant. At the beginning of my career, as a State Legislature, I was the coauthor of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that has expanded coverage to hundreds of thousands of Texas children.
Now in Congress, I am a fighting to strengthen Medicare, lower prescription drug prices, and expand health care coverage throughout my district, especially in underserved colonia areas along the border. In the House, I am co-sponsoring the Protecting Pre-Existing Conditions & Making Health Care Act of 2019, which will lower health insurance premiums with strengthened and expanded affordability assistance as well as strengthens protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
For far too long, rural communities have suffered from neglect and indifference, leading to a lack of affordable quality health care. I am confident that Congress and the Administration can forge the consensus we need to achieve our goal of improving our health care system. Until then, I will work relentlessly until everyone in my community, from the bustling city of Laredo to the flat coastal plains in the Rio Grande Valley, has access to the care they need.