Politics
5:45 pm
Fri February 1, 2013

Agenda Texas: Medicaid Expansion in Texas

  To Take...or Not To Take

Will Texas expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act? That’s the $100 billion question at the Capitol this session. The state’s Republican leadership says "no". But supporters for the Affordable Care Act continue to gain ammunition. A recent report by former Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton indicated that if the state spent $15 billion on a Medicaid expansion over 10 years, it would get $100 billion back. And about 231,000 new jobs by 2016. 

“To look at something that helps to create jobs in Texas. That helps improve the health of Texans, their ability to work. And then to have a more dependable way to access healthcare, are all plusses in our minds on this," said Maureen Milligan, president and CEO of the Teaching Hospitals of Texas.

Of course there are arguments against expansion. One survey by the Texas Medical Association estimates about 30 percent of doctors would take new Medicaid patients. Dr. John Holcomb has a private practice in San Antonio and works on Medicaid issues for the TMA. He says that low buy-in is because the state’s Medicaid reimbursements are too low.

“You could argue that if you keep paying 68 percent of the Medicare rate, you’re gonna have 1.5 million new Medicaid beneficiaries that have cards but have no place to go with them," Holcomb said.

That could happen in the cities. But senior vice president for the East Texas Medical Center Regional Health Care System, Jerry Massey, said that's not true in rural Texas.

He said the rural clinics he represents are required to take Medicaid patients. The newly insured may strain the system, but doctors will see them. And even if patients were to end up in the emergency room – it could still be a cost savings.

“It’d be very advantageous to us if we could for example cut our uncompensated care from 13 to 15 percent, which we see now, to 8 percent or so," Massey said. "That would be an enormous amount of money that would go into a rural healthcare system and would actually make it possible for us to provide additional care to everyone."

Uncompensated ER care is a big deal in the state’s big cities, too. Dr. Holcomb said from San Antonio to El Paso to Houston, the federal money offered to expand the Medicaid rolls would greatly benefit the hospital districts currently covering bills for the uninsured.

“So local taxpayers are already paying for the care of those patients. It’s just that the care is being delivered in the wrong place, definitely at the wrong time and certainly at the wrong price," Holcomb said.

Not only would the federal government foot the bill for Medicaid expansion, but Holcomb said it gets people into a system that leads them away from the high-cost ERs.

None of these arguments appear to have swayed the state’s Republican leadership…yet. But Milligan said the GOP’s refusal to expand could put Texas in a good position to negotiate a tailored plan if -- or as she hopes -- when the state eventually accepts expansion.

“Potentially that could give a state a little bit more flexibility and a little bit more negotiating room with the federal government," Milligan said.

Battle Lines Already Drawn

Some healthcare providers are still figuring out what Medicaid expansion would mean for them. While lawmakers at the Capitol have already drawn a line in the sand. Governor Rick Perry reaffirmed his position during his recent state of the state address.

“We’ve made it clear Texas will not expand Medicaid under the ACA," Perry said.

The Governor's “don’t-take-it” position is supported by Texas Health and Human Services executive commissioner Kyle Janek. He worries an expansion would change little, because it’s would pour more money into a broken and unfixable system.

“The point is you’re going to create a program that is going to continue to underpay the provider network. Grossly underpay the provider network, to provide this care for the uninsured," Janek said.

Democrats agree Medicaid isn’t perfect, but say the projected $100 billion being offered over 10 years is just too much money to pass up. Houston State Senator Rodney Ellis has filed a bill that would let voters decide whether or not the state expands Medicaid. During a rebuttal to Gov. Perry's State of the State address, Austin State Senator Kirk Watson worried the arguments against expansion have little to do with whether or not it would help the state.

“Almost because of just disliking who might have won an election, we’re not going to focus on something that will make citizens of this state healthier and make our economy healthier," Watson said.

Republicans say they’d be more than happy to take the money. But only in the form of a block grant that the state would administer.

Texas has been asking for and not receiving a waiver to create such a program since George W. Bush was president.

What's on your legislative agenda? Drop us a line at AgendaTexas@kut.org.