Texas has the nation’s worst uninsured rate, with more than five million Texans uninsured, but state lawmakers consistently refuse to take any meaningful action to ensure all Texans can access affordable health insurance coverage. Texas is one of only 12 states that has rejected Medicaid expansion — leaving more than one million Texans without any option for affordable health coverage. That’s why Texas advocates launched the #SickofItTX campaign — a non-partisan coalition of passionate advocates fighting for expanded health care coverage and access, led by the Texas Organizing Project, the Children’s Defense Fund – Texas, and Every Texan.
Before the pandemic, #SickOfItTX organized Block Walks for Healthcare, door knocking and engaging Texans about health care, health insurance, and accessing care when uninsured. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the #SickOfItTX campaign doubled down on their efforts to expand Medicaid and pivoted their organizing and power-building efforts to comply with physical distancing. Here’s how they’ve done just that.
Virtual Organizing Amidst the Pandemic
From flooding Texas Governor Abbott’s office with calls, emails and tweets in support of Medicaid expansion to organizing virtual events via Facebook Live, Texas advocates have wasted no time in getting creative in engaging and growing their base of advocates to take meaningful action on health coverage.
In May, the #SickOfItTX campaign hosted the first-ever Virtual Rally for Medicaid expansion in partnership with 20 local and statewide advocacy groups. The rally called on the state of Texas and Gov. Abbott specifically to take immediate action to expand Medicaid with powerful testimonials from Texans living in the coverage gap, state lawmakers and advocates.
Meanwhile, the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), which organizes Black and Latino communities in Dallas, Harris and Bexar counties with the goal of transforming Texas into a state where working people of color have the power and representation they deserve, spearheaded two town halls on racism in health care, Medicaid expansion, and COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Black and Latino communities in Texas.
“We wanted to inform Black and brown communities about the dangers of COVID-19, and shed light on how racism persists in our health care system,” says Sofia Sepulveda, TOP’s healthcare justice organizer. “We also wanted to connect more people to our campaign and activate new leaders.
“And we achieved our goal. People still watch recordings of our events, it grew our membership, and it affirmed that we are a trusted voice on health care. A state representative reached out to us to participate in his health care town hall later this year. And now, the San Antonio City Hall has named Medicaid expansion as one of its top priorities for the 2021 legislative session.”
North Carolina Justice Center convened a coalition of advocates in Southern non-expansion states, including Texas advocates, to form a Southerners for Medicaid Expansion coalition uniting to fight for health care, racial justice and the future of the South. Their cross-state organizing work culminated in a powerful digital vigil event in October 2020, featuring Stacey Abrams and Rev. Dr. William Barber, honoring the lives of people who have suffered from being uninsured and unable to get the health care they need.
In Texas, #SickOfItTX coupled the digital vigil with small, outside in-person events in seven cities across Texas. Advocates coordinated community vigil projections with the message: “Expand Medicaid. Save Lives.”
“Our local vigils demonstrated statewide support at a time when we couldn’t ask people to gather in person,” says Laura Guerra-Cardus, Deputy Director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Texas. “We were thrilled to host our vigils in solidarity with the other seven Southern states that haven’t expanded Medicaid in order to amplify our message. By refusing to take action, our lawmakers are abandoning millions who make up the backbone of our communities.”
virtual community listening sessions and are centering and elevating the voices of Texans who are uninsured, Texans who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act, health care providers, and essential workers.
“I currently attend U of H [University of Houston], and I am an uninsured essential worker,” says Amber Ayala in one of the campaign’s video stories. “As someone who [could] contract COVID-19 while uninsured, I would definitely be more worried about the uninsured part than COVID-19 itself.”
Amber has been working at a grocery store throughout the pandemic. She lives with her young siblings and her grandmother, and she’s worried about bringing something home. But at the end of the day, she told the campaign, she needs to keep working to help pay for her tuition. #SickOfItTX has focused on amplifying the stories of young people who are the state’s future, and essential workers — Texans who have kept the state’s communities safe while putting their own health at risk.