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Texans dread impact of losing Medicaid for low-income people, seniors, disabled

Texans on both sides of the political spectrum say the Lone Star State is not going to fare well; state has more uninsured than any other.

Many in Texas are keeping a close eye on the Republican bid to replace the Affordable Care Act. One of the big changes is how it would affect low-income people, seniors and people with disabilities who all get help from Medicaid. And Texans on both sides of the political spectrum say the Lone Star State is not going to fare well.

As the GOP bill, the American Health Care Act, works its way through Congress, Anne Dunkelberg, with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, said she's a little stumped.

"I have worked on Medicaid and uninsured and health care access issues in Texas for well over 20 years," she chuckled. She said this bill leaves the fate of some current funding streams unclear, and there's one pot of money she's particularly concerned about. Texas has struck deals with the federal government under something known as a 1115 waiver to help reimburse hospitals for the cost of caring for people who don't have insurance. And Texas has more uninsured residents than any other state.

[Also: GOP's own 3-bucket approach to Obamacare repeal causing dissent among party members]

"About half of what Texas hospitals get from Medicaid today comes through payments that are outside from the regular Medicaid program," she said, which adds up to $4 billion in federal funds every year.

But even if Texas gets to keep all that money, there's another issue -- the GOP plan will reduce how much the federal government pays for Medicaid. It will either cap how much money states get for Medicaid from the federal government for every person they cover. That's called a per-capita cap, and the payments under that formula would start in 2020, but would be based on how much the state spends this year. Or, in line with this week's modification of the GOP bill, it would let states choose a lump sum, or block grant, also likely to cut the federal support Medicaid gets.

Adriana Kohler with Texans Care for Children, an advocacy group based in Austin, said Texas already leaves too many people without care.

[Also: Fact check of lawmaker correspondence to constituents on Affordable Care Act finds numerous errors]

"Last legislative session there were cuts to pediatric therapies for kids with disabilities enrolled in Medicaid," she said. The cuts caused some providers to shut their doors, which left some children without services, she said. "That's why these cuts coming down from the ACA repeal bill are very concerning to us."

In Texas, she said, children, pregnant women, seniors and people with disabilities will bear the brunt of any belt-tightening. These populations make up 96 percent of people on Medicaid in Texas. That's why, Dunkelberg said, the program as is should not be the baseline for years to come.

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"They could lock Texas into a lot of historical decisions that were strictly driven by a desire to write the smallest budget possible," she said.

Some on the right agree Texas is getting a raw deal. Dr. Deane Waldman, with the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, said there are things he likes in the bill. But in general, he said, "it's bad deal for Texas. It's a bad deal for the American people."

He said it was the right thing for Texas not to expand Medicaid, but this bill punishes Texas for it. Under the GOP bill, states that expanded Medicaid would get more money. And because the initial Republican bill left the door open for states to expand Medicaid before 2020, he worried more states would do that to get in on the deal.

"It's going to be a huge rush -- an inducement to drag in as many people as they can drag in, because the more they can drag in, the more federal dollars they can get," he said. The GOP's latest plan, however, makes it impossible for any new states to expand Medicaid and cuts off funding for Medicaid expansion states earlier.

This story is part of a partnership that includes KUT, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Twitter: @HC_Finance

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