A national political news website created a stir Wednesday in Texas when it suggested Gov. Rick Perry was cozying up to some of the provisions in the GOP-loathed Affordable Care Act.
Politico reported that Texas officials have been negotiating with President Barack Obama’s administration to bring nearly $100 million in federal funds to Texas to help pay for home care services for people with intellectual disabilities.
The publication said that “several activists and Democrats accused the Republican governor of hypocrisy” because Perry and the Republican-controlled Legislature have refused to expand Medicaid to cover more Texans, as allowed under the health care law.
“It’s simply a shame that Perry is willing to accept $100 million in Affordable Care Act dollars that would help some … but to at the same time reject $100 billion in federal funds” for as many as 1.5 million people who would be eligible for Medicaid expansion, Ginny Goldman, director of the Texas Organizing Project, told Politico.
Health care advocates and officials from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission — not to mention Perry’s staff — quickly responded. They noted that Texas, indeed, was trying to secure federal dollars to provide care for more Texans through a federal program, but they also said that expanding a community care program would save taxpayer dollars and is largely seen as noncontroversial.
Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, said there are no negotiations between the state and the federal government. She said the state is seeking to take part in a federal program, which is part of the Affordable Care Act and available to all 50 states, to provide services designed to help intellectually disabled people live at home, rather than in expensive institutions.
The program, Community First Choice, offers so-called attendant services — such as helping people dress and bathe themselves — to Medicaid enrollees and would be paid for through a 6 percent increase in federal matching funds. It could bring critical programs to 12,000 Texans with intellectual disabilities, many of whom have been waiting for years for access to services.
Perry’s office said the governor hasn’t budged in his opposition to the Affordable Care Act or expanding Medicaid to offer health coverage to more low-income Texans.
“This has nothing to do with expanding Texas’ Medicaid program,” Perry spokesman Josh Havens said in an email. “We do not support expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, and are not doing so here.”
Havens added that the community-based services designed to save money by keeping people out of institutions have long been offered in Texas to aid the elderly and to people with physical disabilities, but the state now is hoping to use the increased match rate to provide the services to people with intellectual disabilities.
“Long before Obamacare was forced on the American people, Texas was implementing policies to provide those with intellectual disabilities more community options to enable them to live more independent lives, at a lower cost to taxpayers,” Havens said in a statement.
Anne Dunkelberg, acting executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said it is unfortunate when someone tries to overly politicize a discussion about serving people with intellectual disabilities.
“As a health care advocate, I’m sorry when anything about health care becomes a political football,” she said. “It is important to put into context that there are many things in the Affordable Care Act that even Gov. Perry may support.”
She cited provisions allowing people up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ insurance; barring insurers from declining coverage to childrenwith pre-existing conditions; and expanding services for people with disabilities, and she said they have nearly universal support.
Many parts of the complicated law are widely embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike, added Dunkelberg, whose Austin-based organization advocates for low- and middle-income Texans.
Facts about Community First Choice
• The newly created program is part of the Affordable Care Act.
• The program lets states provide home and community-based attendant services to Medicaid enrollees under their Medicaid state plans and helps them avoid expensive institutional care.
• The federal government provides a 6 percent increase in federal matching payments to states to pay for the plan.
• California and Oregon have approved Community First Choice programs.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services