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Texas Lawmakers Prepare For Federal Healthcare Act

Tim Rawle

Texas lawmakers continue to monitor the implementation and costs of federal healthcare changes called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. KUT's Ben Philpott reports on a hearing at the Texas capitol on the act.

The massive healthcare act has been a political football since it was first introduced a bill in 2009. And Texas one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn it. But at a hearing at the state Capitol yesterday, Lois Kolkhorst, Chair of the House Public Health Committee, made a point of reminding people to keep their political opinions at bay - even forbidding using "Obama-care" when referring to the act.

Lois Kolkhorst: While there are issues on both sides, I'd like today, not to politicize this but rather to traverse this very carefully. 

The public hearing then launched into about 90 minutes of projections from Texas A&M economist Thomas Saving. He told lawmakers the Affordable Care Act would eat up more and more of the federal budget, forcing Washington to push more of the costs for Medicaid down to the states.

Thomas Saving:  The state's share of Medicaid was about 34 % in 2010. And it's going to be almost getting up near 40 %. So it's going to increase significantly. 

Some Democrats questioned Saving’s findings. Asking whether or not he had factored in any costs savings for additional preventative care. Saving said, "Preventative care never pays."

Thomas Saving: The fact that you've gone in and had a mammogram and know that you don't have a problem, they don't value that. Preventative stuff does not reduce costs for the third party payer. Almost every study would say that.

Lawmakers were also told how full implementation of the law could affect the state's large uninsured population. The Health and Human Services Commission's Billy Millwee said right now about 26 percent of the state is uninsured. Under the federal law, that would drop to about 9 percent.

Billy Millwee: Some of those will be undocumented, who the individual mandate or the availability of the subsidy just won't be there. You'll have some people who just won't comply. Because the penalty, in a cost benefit analysis it may still be cheaper to not get insurance then it is to get insurance.

The Texas Legislature won't meet again until January 2013. Which means updates on how implementation of the law could affect the state's already tight budget will be vital as budget writers figure out how to pay the bills.

Reporting for KUT News and the Texas Tribune, I'm Ben Philpott.