Health Care Looms Large as Texas Democrats Open Virtual Convention

The virtual gathering will be closely monitored by the Democratic National Committee and other state parties nationwide, as restrictions on large public gatherings could still be in place into late summer.

Dr. Linda Villarreal, president-elect of the Texas Medical Association, speaks about the future of health care during the Texas Democratic Party’s virtual convention on Monday.

SAN ANTONIO (CN) — The future of health care in Texas should include expanded access to Medicaid, telemedicine and curbside service, a panel of doctors said on the opening day of the Texas Democratic Party’s virtual convention.

The Lone Star State leads the nation in the number of people without health insurance, and with more than 1.2 million Texans losing their jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic, that figure is likely to increase. An analysis conducted by the Episcopal Health Foundation found that those who lost their employer-sponsored health insurance during the crisis could lose their Medicaid coverage in 2021.

That scenario would be a disaster, according to Dr. Linda Villarreal, president-elect of the Texas Medical Association.

“So the ask to the state legislature is to see if we can continue to prolong those temporary emergency measures to be able to provide that access of health care to our patients,” Villarreal said during a panel discussion Monday on the future of health care in Texas.

She said that includes telemedicine, curbside service and smartphone use.

“Anything that the patient can use to be able to access [their] doctor and still have that doctor get paid the same as if they were in the office,” Villarreal said.

The panel, one of almost a dozen online events Monday, kicked off the Texas Democratic Party’s 2020 convention, billed as the largest virtual state convention in the country with some 12,000 state delegates set to participate. Party leaders picked San Antonio to host this year’s convention but moved to an online format in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The results of this week’s virtual gathering of the party faithful will be closely monitored by the Democratic National Committee and other state parties nationwide, as restrictions on large public gatherings could still be in place into late summer.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa speaks during the party’s virtual convention on Monday, June 1, 2020.

Texas Republicans are continuing plans for a full, in-person convention July 16 to 18 in Houston and President Donald Trump has insisted on holding a live GOP convention in North Carolina in August with no social distancing and no masks.

But Democratic leaders in Texas seem almost giddy at the potential the low-cost, high-tech virtual convention has to prepare them more effectively for the November election. Not only are they betting on higher-than-normal interest, but their online format also scored them the potential for huge audiences with some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party set to deliver speeches, including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and two prospect vice presidential candidates: U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

Texans Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro, both former presidential candidates, will also address convention delegates, and curious onlookers, this week.

“This convention is different from any of the ones we’ve held in the past,” said Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa as he welcomed viewers Monday morning. “However, Texas Democrats are not strangers to change. Our party embraces progress and is proud to pave the way for the future.”

Dr. Carla Ortique, one of six health care panelists addressing viewers live Monday afternoon, said the boom of women interested in home births because of fears over Covid-19 should be discouraged. Ortique, who serves as vice chair of the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force, said that rise is being seen because women are afraid to walk into hospitals and because of limitations over which loved ones they can bring in to support them during labor.

Ortique also worried about the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic is having on African Americans, which she said represent 12% of the population but 18% of deaths.

“It was foreseeable that we would see some disparate outcomes with Covid-19, based on the social determinants of health and how they impact communities of color. Both in the U.S. as well as in Texas, it’s already been shown that African Americans, black Americans, have higher incidents of death from Covid-19,” Ortique said.

A lack of insurance, access to work-from-home jobs and private transportation are factors she said contribute to African Americans being exposed to Covid-19 at higher rates.

The week of online trainings, speeches, panels and caucus meetings will cap with a U.S. Senate runoff debate on Saturday between Democrats MJ Hegar and Royce West, who are vying for the chance to unseat Republican Senator John Cornyn.

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