“Texas Solution” to expand health coverage gets support, doesn’t get a vote

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By Consumers Union on Thursday, May 9th, 2013

With just a few weeks left in the state’s legislative session, chances are fading quickly for expanding coverage to more than 1 million low-income Texans.

Several bills were filed that would have brought billions in federal funds to Texas already set aside to expand eligibility for the Medicaid program. One bill, HB 3791, authored by Representative John Zerwas, called on a “Texas solution” that would not have expanded Medicaid, but instead would use the federal funds to buy private insurance. Low-income Texans would qualify if they earn below 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) – about $26,000 for a family of three.

HB 3791 passed out of the Appropriations Committee with bi-partisan support. Although the bill had the votes to pass the full House; the Calendars Committee, chaired by Representative Todd Hunter, did not schedule the bill for a vote prior to the committee’s deadline.

One avenue remains for the possibility of expanding affordable healthcare to low-income Texans. A Senate budget rider, authored by Senator Tommy Williams, has passed the full Senate. The budget rider, as it is currently written, would direct the state to pursue private market solutions during any negotiations between the Governor, the state health department, and the Federal Government to use available federal funds to expand coverage to adults below 100% FPL.

It is unclear if the budget rider as currently written is feasible, as the Department of Health and Human Services has stated that it will not fund a partial expansion – the state must expand affordable health insurance to all low-income Texans under 133% FPL as laid out by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

If the state fails to act in time, then those low-income Texans will be left without help getting coverage.  Meanwhile, those earning more will be offered discounts to buy private insurance that the poorest Texans won’t be able to access.

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