Abbott Unveils New Health Policy Proposal

Increased funding for preventive care and luring medical professionals to Texas are at the center of gubernatorial frontrunner Greg Abbott’s health care plan, unveiled in Houston on Wednesday.

Republican Gubernatorial candidate, Greg Abbott, speaks one-on-one with members of the media following his his appearance at a Congress Ave. coffee house on July 10th, 2014

HOUSTON — Increased funding for preventive care and luring medical professionals to Texas are at the center of gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott’s health care plan, unveiled at St. Joseph's Women's Medical Center here on Wednesday.

The Republican attorney general, running to replace Gov. Rick Perry, released a proposal that includes a $50 million budget increase for women’s health programs, additional funding for medical school residency slots in Texas, loan forgiveness for aspiring doctors who practice in underserved areas and compensation for doctors who provide care via telephone.

Abbott said the cost of the entire plan would be $175 million every two years, but said it could actually save more than it costs. “It may actually reduce the cost of health care,” he said.

The left-leaning policy group Progress Texas criticized Abbott’s proposal because it does not include Medicaid expansion to cover impoverished adults, a tenet of federal health reform that Texas’ Republican leadership has staunchly opposed. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, with about one in every four people lacking health insurance in 2012, according to U.S. Census data. About 1 million Texans could qualify for Medicaid coverage if the state were to expand the program under current federal guidelines, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Texans don’t need more small ideas from Abbott — we need and deserve a comprehensive plan for insuring those 1 million Texans, and we need it yesterday,” Ed Espinoza, the group’s executive director, said in response to the candidate's proposal.

Abbott’s Democratic rival, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, has endorsed expanding Medicaid.

Davis has also made sexual assault a political issue in the final months before the November election — an issue Abbott’s proposal specifically addressed.

He called for adding 100 new sexual assault nurse examiners to the attorney general's office to care for sexual assault victims and assist with evidence collection. And he endorsed a local approach to fighting sexual assault, proposing the creation of local Domestic Violence High Risk Teams comprised of law enforcement personnel, doctors and survivor advocates to review individual cases.

Davis has aired television ads attacking Abbott for not siding with rape victims as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court. A spokesman for her campaign said the Republican’s proposal amounts to too little, too late.

Abbott also recommended adding optional screening and treatment for postpartum depression through state-funded health programs, increasing wages for attendants who care for seniors and people with disabilities and providing designated days for mental health screenings for service members at major military installations.

Abbott’s proposal echoes Republican lawmakers’ call for the federal government to fund Texas Medicaid with a block grant, which Abbott’s campaign says would allow for “more efficient and effective use of funds.” Such a plan would require federal legislation, which has gained little traction in recent years and is opposed by Democrats.

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