LAWMAKERS ASK FOR MORE MEDICAID FLEXIBILITY
(AUSTIN) — Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and members of the Senate Republican Caucus announced Monday they have submitted a letter to the federal government asking for more flexibility to manage the state's Medicaid system. Patrick said the cost of the system is growing too fast and will cost nearly $25 billion in the proposed budget in state money to maintain current levels of service. "The cost trajectory in the current program is quite simply unsustainable," he said. "In order to ensure a sustainable program, we must have the flexibility from the federal government to manage our own Medicaid in our state."
Health and Human Services Committee Chair Charles Schwertner said that the cost of Medicaid is crowding out other critical state services, eating into available funding for education, public safety and transportation. The share of the budget devoted to Medicaid in 1989 was 12 percent, he said, and has risen to 29 percent of the state budget today and continues to grow at a rate two-and-a-half times faster than any other section of the budget. The number of Medicaid recipients in the state has doubled to 4 million since 2002, while the number of doctors who will accept Medicaid patients has shrunk. "This rapidly increasing demand for services combined with a declining pool of health care providers is fostering the beginnings of a substantial crisis in the Texas Medicaid system." He, along with the other 19 members of the GOP caucus and the Lt. Governor, signed a letter addressed to the President asking for flexibility in areas including the ability to create health savings accounts, co-payments and setting work requirements for able bodied benefits receivers. "Without the appropriate flexibility from our federal partners, the problem will only continue to get worse," said Schwertner.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states must be allowed to opt out of the Medicaid expansion provisions in the Affordable Care Act without losing federal funding. Texas is one of seven states to not participate in Medicaid expansion, and Schwertner said Monday that it should not do so until state lawmakers can decide the best way to spend public healthcare dollars. "Texans know what's best for Texas," he said.
Also Monday the Senate State Affairs Committee considered a bill that would protect journalists from libel lawsuits when reporting allegations made by whistleblowers. Committee Chair Joan Huffman, who authored SB 627, said that while the state has informally recognized the media's right to report on whistleblower allegations for the past 25 years, a recent court ruling could threaten that. "Without the media to bring these allegations to light, we may never have known about them," she said in reference to recent scandals involving federal veterans' programs and state contracting practices.
Her bill would shield media outlets from libel suits provided that they can prove the allegations were made by a whistleblower and that they accurately reported those allegations. Huffman told members that the measure remains a work in progress with many questions about the unintended consequences of such a law, and that she will continue to work with stakeholders to craft a measure that satisfies these concerns. The bill remains pending before the committee.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, March 3 at 11 a.m.
Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.