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Affordable Care Act

Texas Hospitals Want Legislators To Tackle Uninsured, Expand Health Care

Can “Texas Way” get support from Affordable Care Act opponents?



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Texas hospitals want legislators to solve a pressing problem: the large numbers of uninsured residents in the state, and the billions of dollars hospitals lose annually treating them. Efforts to cover these Texans failed in the last legislative session, but there’s a new push to try again.

There already is a way to help about one million uninsured Texans — that would be to cover them through an expansion of Medicaid, a government health insurance program for the poor. Expanding Medicaid to more Texans would cost the state nothing up front. In the long run, the state would only pay 10 percent of the cost, with the feds picking up the rest of the tab.

The Texas State Capitol.

But that’s politically unpopular here because it’s associated with government in gerneral and the Affordable Care Act in particular.

“In Texas, this is a fiercely independent state and obviously an extremely conservative political leadership,” said Lance Lunsford of the Texas Hospital Association.

The hospital industry group is asking legislators to consider a new solution called “The Texas Way.” It would let low-income Texans shop among private health plans, just like middle-income people can now purchase subsidized plans in an online marketplace.

Texas would help pay for the premiums by using federal money that was supposed to be for expanding Medicaid.

“We are trying to move forward with coverage options that would draw down these federal funds, but do so in a responsible way,” Lunsford explained.

By a “responsible way,” Lunsford means the plans would have rules that aren’t allowed under regular Medicaid. Like co-payments for office visits, or penalties for using the emergency room inappropriately.

Lunsford said the entire state, not just hospitals and doctors, would benefit economically by helping low-income workers access healthcare.

“If you’ve got a roofing company or if you’ve got a construction company and these individuals have access to health insurance that they’ve never had before, your output and your efficiency goes way up,” he explained.

It’s unclear if governor-elect Greg Abbott would support such a plan, and he did not respond to requests for comment. But even if he did, the federal government would also have to agree on the compromise before handing over any money.