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At Capitol, Protesters Criticize Perry's Medicaid Announcement

About 150 Texans gathered in front of Gov. Rick Perry's Capitol office on Tuesday to protest his announcement that Texas would not expand Medicaid or establish a health insurance exchange.

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Chanting “2, 4, 6, 8, we want health care, we can’t wait!" Texans from across the state descended on the Capitol on Tuesday to protest Gov. Rick Perry’s announcement that Texas wouldn’t implement key elements of health care reform.

“I think Perry will hear our noise,” said Ar’Sheill Sinclair, a spokeswoman for Good Jobs Great Houston, which organized the 30-minute protest along with the Texas Organizing Project.

An estimated 150 protesters took buses from cities including Houston and Dallas and gathered in the Capitol rotunda at noon before walking to Perry’s second-floor office. They expressed concerns that Perry’s decision last week prevents millions of Texans from attaining health care.

A majority of the protesters were low-wage workers who could not afford health insurance, according to Sinclair.

Protesters took part in several chants during their Capitol demonstration.

“What do we want?” someone chanted, and the crowd responded, “Health care!”

Another prompt: “When do we want it?” And the answer: “Now!”

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to uphold federal health care reform, Perry announced last week that Texas would neither expand Medicaid nor establish a health insurance exchange.

The protesters’ chants could be heard in Perry’s office, and the governor was there, Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said. But she added that the governor had meetings scheduled throughout the afternoon. Perry did not address the crowd during the rally.

Of the protesters, Nashed said, "They were certainly within their right to make their opinion known, but the governor has made clear that ... it would be irresponsible to continue adding tax dollars and individuals to a program that is already broken."

Members of the group went to knock on the door to the governor’s reception room before being ushered back by Capitol security guards. Demonstrators' chanting continued, punctuated by short speeches.

“What is his proposal? What does he want to put in place of that?” Esperanza Rodriguez asked. “What is his plan to take care of people?”

In 2010, 5.7 million Texans — nearly a quarter of the state’s population — didn’t have health insurance, according to the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. In a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month, Texas ranked last among all states when evaluated for health care quality.

Diamond Kirby, who came to the protest from Houston with her mother, father and two daughters, said her children are covered by Medicaid and that one just received a prescription for glasses. But she does not have health insurance for herself. Kirby is not eligible for Medicaid. Instead, Kirby said she waits until the “very last minute” until she goes to a doctor.

“It should be a basic right. It should be, like, a given,” said her mother, Toi Rolander.

Rolander said of Perry after the rally, “He’s ready to make a decision, but he’s not ready to face the people.”

The groups organized a similar protest last week outside of Houston’s Ben Taub hospital. Sinclair said the group also plans to protest at Perry’s news conference announcing the opening of the rebuilt Governor’s Mansion on Wednesday.

“We’re serious about this,” she said.

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