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Perry-Appointed Board Backs Health Coverage Expansion

A board of medical professionals appointed by Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday that the state should provide health coverage to low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act — a move the Republican-led Legislature has opposed.

The 15-member Texas Institute of Health Care Quality and Efficiency recommended that the state’s health commissioner be authorized to negotiate a Texas-specific agreement with the federal government to expand health coverage to the poor, “using available federal funds.”

“We’re trying to look at actions whereby more Texans can be covered,” said board chair Steve Berkowitz, the president and founder 0f SMB Health Consulting. “We’re trying to take the politics out of it.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health law, the federal government has offered to foot more than 90 percent of the bill for states that expand their Medicaid programs to cover adults living in poverty. Perry and other Republican leaders have criticized the program, which could insure more than 1 million currently uncovered Texans, as inefficient.

Lawmakers considered an alternative “Texas solution” to Medicaid expansion during the 2013 legislative session — an initiative that would have called on the state’s health agency to seek a waiver from the federal government to draw down funds to cover the uninsured. That proposal failed. Ultimately the GOP-led Legislature approved a requirement that the Health and Human Services Commission receive legislative approval before expanding Medicaid eligibility — an effort to ensure that they held the keys to any possible agreement with the feds.

Members of the Institute of Health Care Quality and Efficiency — which was established by lawmakers in the 2011 legislative session to identify evidence-based approaches to improving health care and cutting costs — said Wednesday that Texas’ rate of uninsured was “unacceptable,” and that state leaders should look for an alternative way to expand health coverage. The board’s recommendations are not binding and any such decision is up to the Legislature.

“We should be maximizing available federal funds through the Medicaid program to improve health care for all Texans,” said Joel Allison, a board member who is chief executive of the Baylor Scott & White Health System.


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Medicaid States The Health Law