SENATORS SPEAK OUT AGAINST FEDERAL MEDICAID POLICY CHANGE
(AUSTIN) — A bipartisan group of senators held a press conference Wednesday to decry federal efforts to coerce the state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act by banning the way the state funds safety net hospitals. Under the Local Provider Participation Funds program, municipalities can tax private hospitals to help pay for uncompensated care, a program that the state has successfully operated for decades. A proposed rule change from the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), would no longer allow this practice, which could cost the state upwards of $8 billion in funds to pay for healthcare for the uninsured. "Texas has relied on this system and built our safety net around it, and we can't have the rug pulled out from under us," said Mineola Senator Bryan Hughes.
Mineola Senator Bryan Hughes was part of a bipartisan group of senators who said the federal government is threatening safety net healthcare to coerce the state into expanding Medicaid.
When the ACA passed in 2010, it expanded Medicaid nationwide, but subsequent court rulings left that decision up to the states. Texas is one of ten states to decline expansion and the bipartisan group of senators who spoke at Wednesday's event believe this is an attempt to force the state into Medicaid expansion. "The federal government, through CMS, is trying to find a way to pressure the state of Texas and other states to expand Medicaid," said McAllen Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa. "Unfortunately, the approach they're taking is very damaging, has a very negative impact on our safety net hospitals and the people that we represent." Houston Senator John Whitmire, who like Hinojosa believes the state should voluntarily expand Medicaid, called on the Biden administration to work with the legislature on these issues. "I share your frustration that the state has not expanded Medicaid," said Whitmire. "If this is a measure that you are taking to try and coerce us or force us to reconsider our Medicaid policy, don't go down that path." Dallas Senator Nathan Johnson, another proponent of expansion, said that the proposed changes from CMS don't make any sense. "If we did expand Medicaid, we'd pick up about a million people. We have more than five million uninsured people in Texas," he said. "The idea that you're going to punish Texas for not expanding Medicaid takes hostage those other four million uninsured people."
The state is already engaged in litigation against the federal government to block this rule change, but Hughes told reporters that they want to address this issue immediately. "Texas has won this issue in court before and believe that we will again, but we don't want to wait for the courts," he said. "The administration should stop this in its tracks."
On the floor Wednesday, the Senate approved three measures aimed at increasing border security. All but one exceed the governor's call for the special session, which limits legislation to matters related to human trafficking and drug stash houses. That bill is HB 2, by Pleasanton Senator Pete Flores, which would enhance penalties for anyone caught smuggling persons or operating a stash house. "Cartels and other bad actors take advantage of migrants by packing them into tractor trailers, exploiting them through trafficking and by other means, all for profit," said Flores. He said existing legal penalties aren't doing enough to curb these crimes, so HB2 would create a minimum 10 year jail sentence for anyone convicted of those offenses, but would allow prosecutors to offer a five year plea deal if the suspect significantly cooperates with law enforcement. An amendment added in the Senate also lessens the penalty if the individuals involved are closely related.
The two other measures, SB 2 and SB 8, both by Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell, would create a dedicated law enforcement agency to police the border and create a new state trespassing offense for those who try and enter the state from Mexico improperly. These bills are largely similar to measures already passed by the Senate during the regular session that failed to clear the House calendar in the waning days of the regular session.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, June 8th at 10 a.m.