(Adds Democrats response, paragraphs 5-8)
By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas, April 1 Texas Governor Rick Perry
on Monday firmly reiterated that the state will not expand its
Medicaid program, saying it is a broken system that needs to be
reformed by allowing states more flexibility.
Perry, who notified the Obama administration last summer
that his state would not expand Medicaid, was joined on Monday
by other Texas Republican officials, including U.S. Senators
John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.
"Seems to me April Fool's Day is the perfect day to discuss
something as foolish as Medicaid expansion, and to remind
everyone that Texas will not be held hostage by the Obama
administration's attempt to force us into the fool's errand of
adding more than a million Texans to a broken system," Perry
told reporters at the state Capitol.
In Texas, Medicaid expansion would cover more than 1 million
new low-income Texans by 2017, according to the state Health and
Human Services Commission.
About two dozen demonstrators stood outside the room where
the press conference was held, chanting loudly and holding signs
with slogans that included "Rick Perry take the money."
Supporters of Medicaid expansion say that it is a good deal
because the federal government would cover 100 percent of the
costs for the first three years and 90 percent after that.
Texas Democratic officials who support Medicaid expansion
held their own Capitol press conference later on Monday, calling
on the governor to drop his opposition to expanding the program
in the state that has the nation's highest percentage of
uninsured people. About 24 percent of Texans are uninsured.
"Governor, 'No' is not a public policy response," said state
Representative Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio.
He was joined by fellow Democrats including brothers U.S.
Representative Joaquin Castro and Mayor Julian Castro of San
'NOT FREE MONEY'
Medicaid makes up a quarter of the state's budget and could
jump to nearly a third if the state accepts the expansion, Perry
said. Just 30 percent of Texas doctors accept new Medicaid
patients, and the governor said he worries that could decrease
if the expansion happens.
Perry and his fellow Republicans argued that there is
economic sense in turning down funding from Washington, given
that it ultimately comes from taxpayers.
"It's not free money, it's our money," said Ted Cruz, the
freshman U.S. senator. "The federal government is much like an
unscrupulous individual trying to convince a junior high kid to
start smoking...They start by giving a few cigarettes and
saying, 'Just try it.' And there's a bait and switch that's
The Texas Republicans' opposition stands in contrast to
efforts by Republican governors such as Jan Brewer in Arizona,
John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Scott in Florida to get Medicaid
expansion approved by their state legislatures.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Barack
Obama's health care overhaul, but allowed states to opt out of a
provision expanding the Medicaid program.
Since then, 25 governors have indicated support for Medicaid
expansion, 15 say they are not participating and 10 others
remain undecided, according to the Advisory Board Company, a
consulting firm that is tracking the issue. Of those who are
undecided, three are leaning toward not participating, it said.
Expanding Medicaid would boost the Texas economy, save local
tax dollars and dramatically increase the number of Texans with
health insurance, said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of
the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for
Austin resident Dana McBride, who works part-time caring for
people with disabilities, said that she and her husband are
uninsured and would likely be covered under Medicaid expansion.
"I'm blessed to have good health, but you never know," she
said after the Democratic press conference.
(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by David Bailey, Scott
Malone, Steve Orlofsky and Leslie Gevirtz)