As Texas House lawmakers prepared for a long day debating the state budget, three Democratic lawmakers on Thursday morning called for support of a proposed budget amendment that would force a vote on Medicaid expansion.
“I'm calling on [lawmakers] today to support this amendment, and really demonstrate to the other Republican leaders in the state that it is the will of the house to see that this happens,” said Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carollton.
The floor amendment filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, is a nod to House Bill 3871 filed by Johnson. The amendment directs the governor and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to create a government-funded health care plan — whether it is expansion of Medicaid or a new program unique to Texas — that includes adults who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level.
HB 3871 has garnered bipartisan support and would expand Medicaid using increased federal funds. It has 76 lawmakers publicly signed on to the bill — all House Democrats and nine House Republicans.
But, it has not yet had a committee hearing — a necessary step before the bill could come to a vote before the chamber.
Lawmakers often use budget amendments as a way to force votes on issues that have not gotten committee hearings. However, even if the amendment passes the House, it could be stripped off in the conference committee. Any effort to expand Medicaid would likely face an icier reception in the Senate, which typically is considered more ideologically conservative than the House.
If Texas expanded Medicaid, the federal government would bump its reimbursement to the state from 62% of Medicaid expenditures to 67% — and it would pay 90% of the costs for the estimated 1.4 million adults who would become newly eligible for the program.
Texas had twice the national average of people without health insurance, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, causing many to lose their insurance supplied by employers, Coleman said. He pointed to Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Oklahoma as states that have leveraged federal funds to reduce the number of uninsured people in their states.
“In the midst of the pandemic we kept asking communities to be resilient,” Johnson said. “But the reality of it is the state needs to provide the foundational investments that have so long been underfunded, investing in public health and access to health care are essential in keeping Texans back to work, and supporting our recovering economy.” — Reese Oxner