This week, KERA, The Dallas Morning News and KXAS-TV (NBC 5) are producing a series of coordinated reports we’re calling Five Days in October. Each day, we’re looking at where the leading candidates for governor stand on a specific issue.
Today, it’s Medicaid and whether the state can draw down $100 billion from Washington, even though it has chosen not to expand the federal program.
Wendy Davis, a Democrat, and Greg Abbott, a Republican, have very different stances on how to handle Medicaid.
Here’s the background on that $100 billion. While the majority of governors chose to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has joined a group of 24 who have repeatedly refused.
Under the terms of the expansion, 1.5 million Texans who don’t have insurance would become eligible for Medicaid. For the first three years, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the program’s health care costs. After that, the state would have to contribute 10 percent.
Perry says that 10 percent would break the bank in Texas.
And Abbott agrees.
“What I don’t want to do is bankrupt Texas by imposing on Texas the overwhelming Obamacare disaster,’ Abbott said.
During KERA’s televised gubernatorial debate on Sept. 30, Abbott said accepting $100 billion in federal funds would be a mistake.
“If Texas participates, we are making a deal with a federal government that is $18 trillion in debt,” Abbott said. “That is a bargain I’m not willing to make.”
Abbott proposed Texas get its fair share by seeking a block grant to reform Medicaid, but even Republicans in the state have said Washington won’t agree.
Davis has repeatedly laid out her argument to accept the billions to expand Medicaid for the poor.
“What I will do is work with my legislature, Republicans and Democrats alike, who know this is the right thing to do for their communities, who aren’t afraid of being labeled as partisans,” Davis said. “I’ll work with them to bring their tax dollars, our community tax dollars back to Texas and to keep property taxes from increasing.”
In Texas, chambers of commerce and hospitals have been making the business case to expand Medicaid and accept the money.
“By not having that coverage, you have an unhealthy workforce,” said Steve Love, president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council. He says hospitals in the state provide more than $5 billion each year in uncompensated health care. In addition, people who don’t have insurance aren’t as productive.
“Those are dollars that also impact the business and the industry and would be much better for the overall economy, obviously, if we had a healthier workforce,” Love said.
Still, Love admits the Medicaid system isn’t perfect.
“Let’s sit down and correct what’s wrong in the Medicaid system,” he said. “We can overhaul it and enhance it and change it at the same time. And there’s no reason the state working collaboratively together can’t do this.”
A bipartisan group of state lawmakers in Texas say they’re going to give Medicaid reform another try in January.