Gov. Rick Perry's presidential ambitions have run into a new
Perry has made no secret of his disdain for the federal health care overhaul, bashing it at almost every opportunity and blasting the Obama administration's top official in charge of implementing the law during a recent visit to Texas.
Perry now finds himself in the peculiar position of having to defend a Republican-authored bill he signed that's set to tap close to $100 million of Obamacare money to improve care for people with disabilities and the elderly.
The website Politico first reported Tuesday that Texas is in talks with the Obama administration to secure federal funds to help pay for a program that provides assistance for Texans with disabilities. The story cast Perry's team as being engaged in negotiations with the federal government on how to implement the program into the state's existing framework.
Perry's camp quickly denied the story. "This has nothing to do with Obamacare," said Perry spokesman Josh Havens. "The state of Texas has been providing these types of services via Medicaid waiver for decades, and we are continuing to provide this service."
That's partly true.
Texas has been receiving federal dollars to fund a program to help folks with disabilities for years, advocates say. The new federal matching funds provided under an optional program from the 2010 health care overhaul will help the state expand services to a larger group of disabled Texans.
But the funding component for the disability initiative is tailored to specifically draw in the neighborhood of $93 million in additional federal matching dollars to help defray the total cost to the state, according to legislative estimates. That money would come directly from the health care law that conservatives love to hate.
"Would the money come as the result of some provision in the Affordable Care Act? The answer is yes," said state Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, who ushered the proposal through the House. "Anybody who got engaged was certainly aware that if we passed it, we would be able to get additional federal dollars. That wasn't a secret."
Perry's spokesman on Wednesday brushed off assertions that the governor's willingness to accept the money is tantamount to supporting the president's health care reform. "In no way does this constitute an approval of Obamacare," Havens said in an email.
Helping the disabled
The Community First Choice program increases the matching dollars to states that provide home care to the disabled rather than placing them in institutions.
Disabled Texans can already qualify for a Medicaid waiver so that services can be provided at home. But the waiting list for such a waiver can be years long, advocates say, and the Community First Choice program is supposed to act as a stopgap.
An estimated 12,000 Texans are expected to benefit from the program over the next two years, said Dennis Borel, executive director of the coalition of Texans with Disabilities, one of a number of groups that pushed for the provision.
"This is an excellent thing," Borel said, noting that advocates for the disabled "have been seeking something like this for a number of years."
Application in works
Texas officials are currently preparing an application for the increased federal match, according to Stephanie Goodman, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.
Goodman said it was not immediately clear how much new federal money could come to Texas once Washington approves the application. The Legislative Budget Board, which estimates the costs of legislation, has said it could be $93.5 million or more.
The program, Goodman said, will not add new patients to Medicaid rolls.
The program was created as part of state Senate Bill 7, a set of sweeping state Medicaid reforms authored by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.
The legislation does not expand Medicaid eligibility -- the main thrust of conservative opposition to President Barack Obama's health reform measure. It does nonetheless tap Obamacare dollars to use in Texas and it drew widespread support from some of the staunchest conservatives in the Legislature.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appeared at a news conference announcing the bill's rollout. And Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican challenging Dewhurst in the Republican primary, slapped his name on it as a co-sponsor.
On Wednesday, Patrick defended the measure.
"The suggestion that we saw this as using Obamacare dollars is not accurate," he said. "The Obamacare law is so pervasive in the current Medicaid program you'd be hard-pressed to do a major reform without bumping into some aspect of Obamacare."
While Republicans defended using Obamacare dollars to help disabled Texans, Democrats said the state GOP needs to go further in its acceptance of the health care overhaul.
"It is misguided and unfortunate that Texas still refuses to expand Medicaid or work on an alternative option to insure 1.5 million Texans that are currently living without health insurance," said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, noting that it's "great to see Texas" leverage some aspect of the health care law.
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