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The Brief: April 3, 2013

Amid fierce debate this week, a Senate Republican has started work on his own "Texas solution" to Medicaid reform.

Department of Public Safety troopers guard the governor's office on April 1, 2013, as a group protests Republicans' stance o…

The Big Conversation

Amid fierce debate this week, a Senate Republican has started work on his own "Texas solution" to Medicaid reform.

State Sen. Tommy Williams' office said on Tuesday that he is in the early stages of developing a reform plan that would give Texas lawmakers more time to mull directives from the federal government to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

In dueling press conferences on Monday, top Republicans reasserted their opposition to the expansion, which they have said would bankrupt the state, while Democrats cast the expansion as a moral issue and called on state leaders to broker a deal with the federal government.

Rather than expanding the state's Medicaid rolls, Williams' plan would use tax revenue to subsidize private health plans for poor, uninsured Texans starting in late 2015. The revenue would come from the premium tax that insurers would pay after selling policies to Texans who obtain coverage through the state's new health insurance exchange, an online marketplace mandated by the Affordable Care Act. (In states, like Texas, that refused to set up their own exchanges, the federal government will administer its own one-size-fits-all plan.)

"The bottom line is, he's trying to buy some time to see how the exchange works," said Gary Scharrer, a spokesman for Williams, R-The Woodlands. "If it works as proposed, it should generate premium tax revenue that can be used to subsidize private market plans for those who lack coverage."

Williams, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has emerged as a key figure in the expansion debate. Last month he penned an op-ed in The Dallas Morning News in which he detailed possible "Texas solutions" to Medicaid, including co-pays and deductibles for Medicaid recipients and the expansion of Medicaid managed care.

Culled

•    Legislative push for highway cash hitting roadblocks (Austin American-Statesman): "This was going to be the session when legislators began weaning the Texas Department of Transportation off its decade-long reliance on debt and found a substantial and sustainable source of money to build and repair roads. … But with the session in its final two months, few if any of a raft of bills introduced to come up with cash have moved out of committee, and most haven’t even gotten a hearing. Lawmakers and transportation lobbyists say the push for road money now is surviving mostly on hope."

•    Obama, first lady to attend dedication of George W. Bush presidential library in Dallas (The Associated Press): "The White House says President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will attend the opening of former President George W. Bush’s presidential library later this month in Dallas. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush will dedicate the library at Southern Methodist University on April 25. The library opens to the public on May 1."

•    TEA Chief: Texas Moving to A-F Grades for Schools (The Texas Tribune): "Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams told senators Tuesday that the state intends to move forward with developing an A through F public school accountability rating system that would take effect in 2014."

•    Senate panel likes idea of halving gun-license training requirement (Austin American-Statesman): "State leaders have long been proud that Texas requires at least 10 hours of instruction before citizens can legally carry a concealed handgun. But on Tuesday, a state Senate committee signaled its willingness to halve that requirement after hearing from gun owners, instructors and even lawmakers that four to six hours of training is plenty."

Quote of the Day: "[Cruz] and DeMint are very close friends, and of course, being invited to something like this, he wouldn’t want to miss it. This is for Senator DeMint, and that’s why he’s going." — Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, on the senator's plans to speak at a Republican fundraising dinner in South Carolina in May

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