|BROWNSVILLE, April 1 - State Sen. Eddie Lucio says he sides with the Texas Hospital Association when it comes to the issue of whether to expand Medicaid or not.
“Medicaid expansion for the state of Texas really is a no-brainer. The federal government is offering us the opportunity to have 100 percent funding to expand Medicaid for the next three years. After that the federal government would kick in with a 90-10 match. I think that is a gift from Heaven,” said Lucio, D-Brownsville.
In an interview for the South Texas TV show Ron Whitlock Reports, Lucio said the federal funds being offered by the federal government to Texas to expand Medicaid quite obviously belong to the taxpayers, so why not utilize them.
“This will afford us an opportunity to address all the thousands of people that need Medicaid services. It is the humane thing to do. I just cannot understand why we would negate our people the opportunity for health care services with this Medicaid money that is being offered by the federal government,” Lucio said.
Lucio said that under the terms for expanding Medicaid, the State of Texas could opt out after three years. “We do not have to continue with the expanded Medicaid program at that point. I would favor continuing with the program because of the high, high, number of Medicaid patients we have in our state. At the very least, though, we should go for three years to address the Medicaid necessities of the state of Texas at this point.”
Lucio made his comments in reaction to a roundtable and news conference Gov. Rick Perry, and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz held in Austin on Monday in opposition to expanding Medicaid. The three Texas leaders said Texas deserved “flexibility” so that it can enact “meaningful reforms to the existing, broken Medicaid program.” The trio wants the Perry wants the federal government to give Texas the funds for Medicaid expansion in the form of block grants.
Joining the trio at the roundtable were Congressmen Joe Barton and Michael C. Burgess, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, who chairs the House Committee on Health, Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek, and members of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“Medicaid expansion is a misguided, and ultimately doomed, attempt to mask the shortcomings of Obamacare. It would benefit no one in our state to see their taxes skyrocket and our economy crushed as our budget crumbled under the weight of oppressive Medicaid costs,” Gov. Perry said. “Texas doesn’t need another mandate, but the flexibility to care for our own in a manner that makes sense both effectively and financially.”
In response to the Perry roundtable, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro held a news conference to promote Medicaid expansion. Matt Glazer, executive director of Progress Texas, said Perry, Cornyn and Cruz were offering no realistic plan for improving health care in Texas.
“Perry, Cornyn and Cruz want to go back to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which means they want to deny children coverage because of pre-existing conditions,” Glazer said. “They want insurance companies to use as much as your premiums for their profits as they want, and remove any requirements that your premiums go towards better care. Repealing the Affordable Care Act and implementing block grants in Texas would devastate health care at a time when we already have the worst health care coverage rates in the country.”
Dr. Dan Stultz, president and CEO of the Texas Hospital Association, said the THA appreciates the willingness Perry, Cornyn and Cruz were showing to consider “innovative, flexible solutions to serving the Medicaid population.” However, he said the THA also believes the Affordable Care Act “provides a more expeditious pathway to reform,” short of waiting on the federal government to approve a state block grant of the entire program.
“Currently, a quarter of our state’s residents are uninsured, putting pressure on Texas employers and their employees to cover uncompensated care costs through higher private health insurance premiums. It is vital that our state decrease its rate of uninsured by expanding coverage. The current opportunity to work with the federal government to create a Texas solution using Medicaid expansion funding will create greater access to health care for working Texans, many of whom are gainfully employed but cannot afford health care coverage in the private market.
“Taking this step to reform Medicaid would get more Texans the preventive care they need before an emergency arises. This would help relieve the stress on emergency rooms that often are faced with patients in need of routine care. In addition, it would help get workers back on their feet faster as their access to quality care improves.”
Stultz said the Medicaid 1115 Transformation Waiver currently being offered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provides incentives for hospitals to invest in primary care and mental health capacity in their communities that will improve access to quality care and divert costly inappropriate emergency room utilization.
“These reforms put Texas in a good position to effectively utilize Medicaid expansion funds as a bridge to wider reform efforts. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has shown its desire and ability to be flexible to unique solutions, and Texas should take the opportunity to develop a Texas solution that truly meets the needs of Texas patients, physicians, and hospitals,” Stultz said.
“In the end, Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do for Texas: a recent survey of Texas voters shows a strong majority say they would vote to re-elect a state legislator who votes FOR Medicaid expansion. Texas hospitals urge Governor Perry and Texas leaders to allow for expansion in Texas.”
Meanwhile, state Sens. Rodney Ellis, Wendy Davis and Sylvia Garcia said they will join with the Texas Organizing Project on Tuesday to announce the launch of the Find the 1.5 Million Campaign. This refers to the 1.5 million low-income adult Texans who would qualify for Medicaid if it were to be expanded. The senators are to hold a news conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday to launch a “month of action that will inject the voices of the most impacted working uninsured into the health care expansion debate in Austin.”
The senators said hundreds of canvassers and volunteers will visit clinics, grocery stores, emergency rooms and neighborhoods in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley to identify working Texans who are part of the 1.5 million who could receive access to affordable health coverage if Texas accepts $78 billion in federal funding.
Guardian reporter Esmeralda Torres contributed to this story from Austin.