Speaking in Austin on Thursday, potential GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson told a crowd of health care executives that it was a “mistake to talk about repealing” the Affordable Care Act without offering an alternative.
Carson called for an overhaul of the U.S. health care system, criticized Medicaid as inefficient and stressed the need for education reform, all over a breakfast of sausage and eggs at the Texas Hospital Association’s annual conference.
“If we can bring the medical system into the free market, that’s what controls quality, and that’s what controls price,” he said. “Good health care, although it’s not a right, it is a responsibility for a compassionate, caring society.”
A professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Carson was the first surgeon to successfully separate twins joined at the head. His name surfaced as a presidential contender after his speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast drew widespread media attention. An aide to Carson told The Texas Tribune he would probably announce his candidacy for president by May 1.
The importance of education was a central theme of Carson’s remarks Thursday, as he advocated for the expansion of charter schools and criticized entitlement programs. He recounted his rags-to-riches story of growing up poor in Detroit — his mother, one of 24 children, married at age 13, he said — to becoming one of the world’s pre-eminent neurosurgeons.
But Carson’s position on health reform were perhaps most interesting to his audience. At the conference, hospital association members discussed their priorities for the 2015 legislative session, especially how to get lawmakers to consider a “Texas way” to expand health insurance to low-income adults. Such a proposal would use Medicaid funds made available under the Affordable Care Act.
“The bottom line is Medicaid is underfunded. We need the Legislature to step up and address this situation,” said David Huffstutler, president and CEO of St. David’s HealthCare in Austin. “To be blunt, the current system is broken.”
Carson called for reforms to Medicaid but did not provide specifics. “Recipients of the Medicaid dollars in many cases are treated as second-class citizens,” he said. “And yet the amount of money we are spending could easily make them first-class citizens.”
Disclosure: The Texas Hospital Association and St. David's HealthCare are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.