JOINT COMMITTEE CONSIDERS MEDICAID REFORM
(AUSTIN) — A joint committee created study ways to improve the state's indigent health care insurance system met for the first time Thursday, to hear a proposal for a federal waiver that would free up more funds to increase health coverage in Texas. Changes in federal policy permit states more flexibility to use federal Medicaid funds in tailored health insurance programs for the uninsured. Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins says his department is ready to move forward with the federal waiver application. "We've worked since the end of the session, with various stakeholders… to structure an approach that will establish a sound foundation for establishing higher levels of insurance coverage in our state," he said.
According to the Health and Human Services Commission, 25 percent of Texans, or about 5.5 million people, lack health insurance coverage. Roughly half of these are people who make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. One point three million uninsured are non-citizens, both legal and illegal immigrants. Uninsured Texans are more likely to lack preventative health care, more likely to wait to seek treatment until illnesses have progressed, and have a higher mortality rate than insured individuals, according to HHSC Deputy Chief of Staff Maureen Milligan.
The proposed plan would shuffle around federal funding sources, allowing the state to maintain funding sources to hospitals, while freeing up funding for programs to increase private insurance programs, with a focus on primary and preventative care. Milligan said the waiver is due to be filed in January 2008.
Committee Chair Senator Jane Nelson of Lewisville said that the state must move quickly on this proposal. "We've got to strike while the iron is hot, as a new administration may not be as informed about our work and future plans for improving the Medicaid program in Texas, so we've got to move quickly," she said.