House lawmakers gave early approval today to a bill designed to let Texas take control of Medicaid and Medicare from the federal government after a high-decibel argument between the measure’s Republican author and Democratic lawmakers.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst’s HB 5, which died on the clock during the regular session, would allow Texas to join with other states in a so-called “health care compact,” in which state leaders would ask Congress to grant them control of the purse strings and authority to operate Medicare and Medicaid. Already, Georgia and Oklahoma have passed similar legislation — though such a compact would likely face an uphill battle in Washington.

“Innovation can lower our costs,” said Kolkhorst, who has argued that the spiraling costs of both programs are unsustainable.  

The bill passed with a much-debated addition from Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. His amendment prohibits such a compact from reducing any Medicare entitlement to seniors. Kolkhorst originally seemed to oppose the move. Though she said she has no intention of cutting Medicare entitlements or endangering seniors' health, she argued that Texas’ compact must be identical to those that passed in other states to work. But in the end, she voted for Turner's amendment. 

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“Why would Texas want to yield to Georgia or Oklahoma?” Turner asked. “People need to clearly understand that by voting for HB 5 we are opening the door to reduce our entitlement to seniors.”

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