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Red State Policies Shorten Lifespans. How Does That Impact Texas?

This week, an exhaustive report in The Washington Post by Lauren Weber, Dan Diamond and Dan Keating looked into how years of Republican antipathy to public health and safety programs have dropped the lifespan of people in Ohio. By their reckoning, red state politics has made the state comparable to Ecuador and Slovakia in terms of health. Some of the reasons cited are opposition to higher cigarette taxes, seatbelt laws, and other public health initiatives. Though these issues often find a sympathetic ear from Governor Mike DeWine they fail to pass in the Republican-controlled legislature.

 A similar story could be told here in Texas, which has been under almost total Republican control for decades.

 The story of Texas’s abysmal maternal mortality rate is a well-known one at this point. It was already terrible even before the eradication of nearly all abortion access. Between 1999 and 2019, maternal mortality rates in the state more than doubled, and the number is even worse for Black Texans. The state ranks 14th in terms of most maternal deaths, with the states above it almost all being solidly red. 

The COVID epidemic illustrated perfectly how Republican ideology leads to increased death and disability. While Governor Greg Abbott and other top leadership initially participated in quarantines and other measures, they quickly abandoned the protocols in the name of freedom. Consequently, Texas has the third-highest rate of COVID related deaths in the nation, only narrowly losing to even-more-conservative Alabama and Oklahoma. Republican attacks on vaccine measures, mask mandates, remote learning, and other proven defenses led to increased deaths compared to states that embraced evidence-based initiatives.

 Texas is also the largest state to refuse the Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act. Despite pleas from residents across the state since 2010, the legislature has refused to pass a law allowing Texas to take advantage of federal money that would bring health coverage to 2 million residents, many of them children. Abbott has called the program a tax increase waiting to happen.

This costs the lives of more than 700 residents a year. That number is only the mortality rate. The percentage of Texans living with untreated pain and chronic illness is likely much higher.

Many of those people turn to illicit drugs or alcohol to cope with pain, stress, and mental illness. Not surprisingly, Texas ranks dead last in terms of mental health care spending, which includes addiction. There was some movement over the last several years following a few high-profile mass shootings. Republicans, eager to blame deaths on anything other than easy access to high powered weaponry, invested $25 billion into mental health care. Thus far, it has not produced much.

The state’s “business friendly” status is also cutting lives short. The term often means “looser regulations” and “fewer taxes on corporations who pollute,” and the public health cost goes up accordingly. Coal plants with outdated pollution controls kill around 300 Texans a year. The Environmental Protection Agency has attempted to force better compliance, but has been thwarted by lawsuits filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton. Oil production is also rife with harm, but the state opposes measures to limit the damage at every turn.

The list goes on. Republican policies tend to favor profits over public health, and personal expression over safety. Over the decades, this has eroded the quality of life in Texas, as it has in other states.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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