Proposed state budget ignores national health care law

Allison Harris

The proposed state budget does not take into consideration investments Texas should make to fund portions of the national health care reform law, said the associate director of a research group.

Anne Dunkelberg, associate director the nonpartisan research organization Center for Public Policy Priorities, spoke to nearly 100 people at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin about the need for the state to raise its allotted funding for the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Bonny Gardner, public affairs co-chair at the church, said the church sponsored the event to inform the public about an issue it considers important to everyone.

“We see health care issues and health care reform as vitally affecting the lives of everyone in this country,” she said. “We want to correct public misperceptions and misunderstandings.”

Facing a budget shortfall of approximately $15 to $27 billion, representatives in the state House proposed a budget that would reduce funding to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission by 24.6 percent, or $49 million. Both Senate and House budgets proposed cutting reimbursement rates to Medicaid providers by 10 percent.

Jacqueline Angel, public affairs and sociology professor, said the state will need more Medicaid funding in the future.
“Almost one-fifth of the population has a disability, and the number continues to rise,” Angel said. “At the same time, the population is aging and the number of individuals with chronic conditions and limited resources is also increasing.”

Public affairs lecturer Sherri Greenberg said cutting Medicaid reimbursement rates would reduce the limited options Medicaid patients have, forcing them to go to the emergency room for uncompensated care. The increasing number of patients who need emergency care would then cause costs to increase for hospitals funded by local property taxes.

“There are people who show up in the emergency room who don’t actually need emergency care,” she said.

Greenberg said if patients do not find a Medicaid provider, they are more likely to go to the emergency room for routine care.

To meet the requirements of national health care reform, Dunkelberg said the state needs to start building an insurance exchange, provide the Texas Department of Insurance with more resources to carry out its broader responsibilities, streamline Medicaid and health insurance exchange enrollment systems and increase the health care workforce. She said legislators also did not take inflation and Texas’s increasing population into account when writing the budget.

She suggested using the state’s $9.4-billion Rainy Day Fund, closing tax loopholes and raising taxes to balance the budget rather than simply cutting more in other areas.

“There’s no way to say, ‘Don’t cut Health and Human Services, put it on public schools, or don’t cut public schools, put it on the courts,’ because everything in the budget’s cut,” Dunkelburg said.