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On White House Call, Democrats Hit Republicans on Obamacare

On a White House conference call on Monday, Texas Democrats accused Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican state leaders of impeding implementation of federal health care reform in the state.

State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, grills UT Regent Brenda Pejovich at the Select Committee on Transparency in State Operations on May 9, 2013.

On a White House conference call on Monday, Texas Democrats criticized Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican state leaders for “getting in the way” of implementing federal health care reform.

During the call, which was organized by the White House to tout the impact of the Affordable Care Act in Texas, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins accused state leadership of creating obstacles to keep Texans from obtaining health insurance, as required by the health care law, also known as Obamacare. The two Democrats cited Texas’ decision not to expand Medicaid, the lack of a state-based insurance marketplace and proposed additional rules for federal navigators.

Martinez Fischer called Texas the "poster child" for the uninsured, adding that the state’s rate of residents without health insurance — the highest in the nation at about 25 percent — had received “no relief from state leadership."

“I wish we would use our energy and momentum in Texas with our statewide elected officials to actually embrace and work cooperatively with the administration to expand ACA opportunities in Texas rather than the trail of roadblocks,” Martinez Fischer said.

Jenkins questioned Perry’s request for additional regulations on federal navigators, who are charged with helping individuals sign up for health insurance.

“If they won’t help citizens gain access to coverage, they ought to stand down and stay out of the way for those of us who are willing to work to do the job for Texas,” Jenkins said.

Perry first requested the rules in September, citing consumer privacy concerns. Other Republican state leaders, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott, followed suit.

Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed called the conference call an attempt to distract from the Affordable Care Act's “continued failures.” She cited the technical problems of the federal online insurance marketplace, concerns surrounding the training of navigators and delayed enrollment deadlines.

“Texas families and businesses don’t need more empty rhetoric from the Obama administration to know that Obamacare is a failure,” Nashed said.

During the call, two Texas residents who said they obtained health insurance through the federal marketplace in October recounted their previous struggles with health insurance providers.

The two Texas residents were among the 14,000 Texans who purchased health insurance through the embattled website by the end of November — a tiny percentage of Texas’ large uninsured population. More than 6 million Texans were uninsured in 2011 and 2012.

During the press call, David Simas, a White House deputy senior adviser, did not provide updated enrollment numbers for Texas but said December figures, which will soon be released, showed a “huge spike.”

Other Texas Democrats have recently criticized state leaders for their attacks on the ACA.

During a Texas Department of Insurance hearing last month, state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin suggested that the proposed new rules for federal navigators were “products of raw political pressure.” State Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie said navigators were the the latest targets in an “all-out assault” on the health care law.

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Federal health reform Rick Perry Trey Martinez Fischer