FORT WORTH — At a time when nearly one-quarter of all Texans lack health insurance, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius came to town Thursday to encourage residents to sign up before the March 31 deadline.“Everything is bigger in Texas,” she said during a news conference at Tarrant County College South Campus. “Unfortunately, the number of uninsured is bigger in Texas.“Twenty-three percent of Texans have no health insurance at all.”That’s why she — and local leaders including U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth; state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Tarrant County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks; and TCC Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley — spoke out Thursday, encouraging Texans to beat the deadline and sign up for the Affordable Care Act before the end of the month.Officials are holding several events throughout the Metroplex in the coming days to help residents enroll.Veasey said it’s especially crucial for local residents to take advantage of this program. The 33rd Congressional District — which Veasey represents and which stretches from Fort Worth to Dallas — has the highest uninsured rate of any district.“Over 1 million people in Dallas-Fort Worth do not have insurance,” he said. “This is about your health, this is about your life, and this is about your family.“We cannot afford to let this opportunity … pass by.”Under the law, most Texans are required to have health insurance by March 31.President Barack Obama’s administration has said 5 million residents nationwide have signed up for health insurance through the program, Obama’s signature legislation.Local officials say Texans should not let this opportunity pass by.“There’s an opportunity to have access to quality, affordable healthcare today,” Collier said. “We will not stop today but continue to spread the word.“Our future starts here, today.”Veasey, Sebelius and other officials criticized Republican Gov. Rick Perry for not participating in the Medicaid expansion to further help Texans.“Each and every day … Texas is losing $18 million” because of that decision, Sebelius said. “In the meantime, the taxpayers of Texas are picking up the cost.”Perry has said expanding the program isn’t best for the state.“In Texas, where Medicaid already consumes a quarter of the state budget, we simply need the flexibility to implement fundamental, state-specific reforms to our Medicaid program, instead of a one-size-fits-all Washington mandate, before it bankrupts our state,” he has said.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley