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Guest Column: Shutdown is Good Theater, but a Bad Idea

Last year, Dallas County taxpayers spent $582 million to care for the uninsured. More insured citizens means better public health, lower taxpayer burden to cover the uninsured and a stronger community.

By Clay Jenkins
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A few days ago, Dallas was at the front line of the ongoing effort to stop Obamacare. The conservative group Heritage Action for America was joined by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on a bus tour proclaiming "defund Obamacare or shut down the government." While it may garner political attention, it’s not a viable solution to our shared challenges.

Cruz claimed that the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, is “hurting the economy and it is a disaster for working people and their families.”

Yet the No. 1 cause of bankruptcies in our country is staggering medical bills that overwhelm families when they are most in need, either after catastrophic accidents or when they are uninsured. Dallas County has the fourth highest number of uninsured residents of any county in America, and Texas leads the nation in the rate of uninsured. More than one out of every four Texans does not have health insurance. Last year, the cost to taxpayers to care for the uninsured was $582 million in Dallas County. People with health coverage live longer, happier lives while lessening that cost.

The Affordable Care Act builds on what works in our health care system, as it also works to fix what is broken. With the new health insurance marketplaces, people will be able to access insurance plans that fit their budgets and are dependable with defined essential health benefits. And those with insurance are already seeing benefits under the new law. Annual checkups for adults and children, vaccinations, yearly women's health exams and other preventative visits no longer have co-pays, and young adults can now stay on their parents' insurance plans until the age of 26. Lifetime caps on coverage are banned, and individuals are no longer denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and are not discriminated against on their premiums based on gender.

What we saw here in Dallas is the definition of political theater. Focused on appealing to a small sliver of the overall population that makes up a big chunk of Republican primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, Cruz and his allies continue to talk tough about shutting down the government to dismantle the law. But what they won’t be talking about are the new protections and benefits they hope to take away from hardworking Americans.

Dissent is healthy and reasonable minds differ, but what is missing in Congress is an ability to transcend partisan politics to find workable solutions for real people. The senator’s "my way or the highway" threat to shut down government because he disagrees with current law does nothing to achieve that goal.

The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, and it is the law of the land. The ACA offers more than 506,000 Dallas County citizens currently without health coverage their best chance to purchase affordable insurance. More insured citizens means better public health, lower taxpayer burden to cover the uninsured at the county’s Parkland Hospital and a stronger community.

In Dallas County, we have built broad, community-wide support for helping sign up our uninsured residents for health insurance they can afford when the marketplace opens on Oct. 1. Among my responsibilities is to promote public health and sound stewardship of county tax dollars; implementation of the ACA does both.

After all, everyone deserves access to affordable health care. The ACA helps protect you and your family. Political bus tours and government shut downs do not.

Jenkins, a Democrat, is the Dallas County Judge.

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