The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
The financial future of Texas depends largely on how Medicaid reform is shaped in the upcoming legislative session, according to Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.
Entering his 16th year as an elected state official, and first as chair of the senate finance committee, one of Williams’ biggest goals is to put the state’s largest non-education program, Medicaid, on a better track to help alleviate other problems Texas will face in the near future.
The state’s budget has grown by 8 percent during the last decade, Williams said, while funding for Medicaid has grown by 14 percent.
“Resources from other areas are being put in to feed that Medicaid monster,” he said.
Williams said he supports Medicaid but said it’s “not sustainable in its current form.”
“Sitting at the chair of the senate finance committee, and setting aside politics, from the state perspective, there’s very little health care reform and a huge Medicaid expansion,” he said.
The biggest change in health care on the state and federal level has been the methodic implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
In line with Gov. Rick Perry’s stance, Williams said he does not want Texas to accept the funds provided by the ACA because the regulations accompanying them are too strict.
“My point is not that we shouldn’t take care of that population, but that we should do it at a price our tax payers can afford,” he said. “This simply hasn’t given us the flexibility we need to do that.”
The only way he would approve of Texas taking ACA funds, Williams said, is if they were offered as a block grant. This would allow the state to spend the money as it sees fit.
“If the federal government would block grant the money to Texas, we could take care of these people on Medicaid for a lot less money than we’re spending now, and we could take better care of them,” he said.
There are two main reasons Williams would not accept ACA funds as they are currently outlined: State exchanges and Medicaid rollout.
Any federal funds refused by one state are rolled over, or exchanged, to another state that approves of the new guidelines. After a state receives these funds, its health care programs, like Medicaid, are essentially condensed into a federally-guided system.
Williams said this is the opposite of what needs to happen in order to secure the future of health care.
“It’s just more of the same centralized bureaucracy that’s gotten us into the mess we’re in now,” he said. “If the state really got to run it, that would be fine. But that’s not the set up they have now.”
Texas has made strides in improving its health care system, Williams said, in part by establishing contracts with competing providers and reforming the regulations.
“You’re paying them for outcomes, not services provided,” he said. “If you have two managed care providers that are competing for the government’s business in this area you tend to get much better service.”
With news of the Pleasure Island golf course and country club reopening sometime in 2013, discussions of allowing gambling along the state coast have resurfaced.
Though Southeast Texas counties must compete with the business and tourism attracted by casinos in Louisiana, Williams said “it would be a big hill to climb” to consider legalizing gambling.
“I have never supported gambling in Texas,” he said. “I think you could probably get it through the senate, but I don’t think there’s anyway you could get it through the house.”
Williams did say he fully supports an expansion for the Sabine-Neches Waterway, however, as it would be a huge boost to the state and national economy.
The potentially $1 billion project has been discussed by local officials for months, and the Army Corps of Engineers recently approved a 14-year long report on the expansion.
The channel would be expanded from 40 feet deep and 64 miles long to 48 feet deep and 77 miles long after dredging that would take about 15 years to complete, according to a recent News article. The project would create about 2,100 yearly jobs.
“People don’t realize how important the Sabine-Neches complex is to the nation’s economy,” Williams said. “I’ll be supportive of that. I’m not sure that’s something we’re going to address directly, but we’ll see.”
Williams said the federal approval would be the biggest step to take in order to expand the channel, but he would be “ready to go to work as soon as that’s done.”