Messin’ with Texas politics

Watching the Texas legislature debate that state’s approach to the new federal healthcare mandates makes our own hyper-reactionary Arkansas state assembly look tame and rational.

Given that our local august body just concluded a session marked by a cavalcade of dubious and likely unconstitutional new laws, that’s a tough trick.

The most recent example of Texas-sized legislative buffoonery came this week when the Texas House rejected an amendment to a bill restricting the expansion of Medicaid. If Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano had his way, the new language would have required the Legislature to approve any enlargement of Medicaid.

Detractors emerged from both sides of the aisle. The vote against was 71-68. Seventeen Republicans joined 54 of the chamber’s 55 Democrats to reject the amendment.

Reps. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, and John Zerwas, R-Richmond, both said Leach’s amendment could have unintended consequences. According to a report by the Dallas Morning News, Dukes and Zerwas describe Medicaid, a health insurance program for the poor, as constantly changing because federal and state officials argue both about program revisions proposed by states as well as new rules proposed by the federal government.

Dukes and Zerwas, who are both House budget writers, warned that Leach’s amendment “might inflict collateral damage on efforts under way to redirect special Medicaid payments for hospitals to new locally run experiments in Texas,” the report states.

As the pair of lawmakers rightly acknowledge, some of the new regional health partnerships could use the additional funds to expand who is covered or what services are provided, such as mental health treatments.

For his part, Leach said lawmakers need assurances that Gov. Rick Perry — an inarticulate, yet outspoken critic of Obamacare — won’t change his mind on Medicaid expansion and seek a deal with federal officials to help cover more uninsured Texans.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, was one of the five House members who voted against the original bill on final passage. He stated that his vote represented a protest of the Leach amendment.

“We tie the hands of the executive branch in perpetuity. If hospitals in other states benefit from reducing their charity care burdens and health insurance exchanges in other states flourish as cost shifting is reduced, Texas should have the chance to try to negotiate a compromise with President Barack Obama’s administration. We should leave the door open to doing a Texas solution,” he said.

Anchia’s remarks, while well-taken, embody a fundamental flaw in the larger discussion of health care. It may seem a semantic distinction, but to think about Medicaid as “charity care” exposes a broad bias in the process.

Medicaid should not be regarded as “charity.” Rather, it should be thought of as a standard component of a society that takes care of one another. No one wants to need Medicaid; just like no one wants to be gravely ill, have a serious accident or be the victim of a violent crime.

Unfortunately, all those things can and do happen every day — in Texas and all across America. While the U.S. Congress just couldn’t countenance more sweeping healthcare reform, “Obamacare” is the law of the land. Texas lawmakers need to get with the program.

In the end, the state’s Republican-led legislature and Republican governor turned down $100 billion from the federal government over the next 10 years that would have paid for health care for 1.5 million poor, old and disabled citizens. The state would have had to come up with just 7 percent to expand Medicaid, but that 7 percent would have meant participating in the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — and the lawmakers would apparently rather kick those poor, old and disabled folks to the curb rather than embrace the president’s health care plan.

All for fear that the tea party will sweep them out of office if the words “health care” come out of their mouths. And at a time when hospitals and doctors are pleading to the state to take the money because funding to those medical groups has already been trimmed.

It’s simply inhumane when legislatures attempt to grind out petty political points by putting the bones of our most vulnerable citizens through the mill. While we’re not especially proud of the “solutions” enacted by the Arkansas state legislature, they are sight better than the foolishness being wrought in Austin.