health care reform law

The proposed state budget does not take into consideration investments Texas should make to fund portions of the national health care reform law, said the associate director of a research group. Anne Dunkelberg, associate director the nonpartisan research organization Center for Public Policy Priorities, spoke to nearly 100 people at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin about the need for the state to raise its allotted funding for the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Bonny Gardner, public affairs co-chair at the church, said the church sponsored the event to inform the public about an issue it considers important to everyone. “We see health care issues and health care reform as vitally affecting the lives of everyone in this country,” she said. “We want to correct public misperceptions and misunderstandings.” Facing a budget shortfall of approximately $15 to $27 billion, representatives in the state House proposed a budget that would reduce funding to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission by 24.6 percent, or $49 million. Both Senate and House budgets proposed cutting reimbursement rates to Medicaid providers by 10 percent. Jacqueline Angel, public affairs and sociology professor, said the state will need more Medicaid funding in the future. “Almost one-fifth of the population has a disability, and the number continues to rise,” Angel said. “At the same time, the population is aging and the number of individuals with chronic conditions and limited resources is also increasing.” Public affairs lecturer Sherri Greenberg said cutting Medicaid reimbursement rates would reduce the limited options Medicaid patients have, forcing them to go to the emergency room for uncompensated care. The increasing number of patients who need emergency care would then cause costs to increase for hospitals funded by local property taxes. “There are people who show up in the emergency room who don’t actually need emergency care,” she said. Greenberg said if patients do not find a Medicaid provider, they are more likely to go to the emergency room for routine care. To meet the requirements of national health care reform, Dunkelberg said the state needs to start building an insurance exchange, provide the Texas Department of Insurance with more resources to carry out its broader responsibilities, streamline Medicaid and health insurance exchange enrollment systems and increase the health care workforce. She said legislators also did not take inflation and Texas’s increasing population into account when writing the budget. She suggested using the state’s $9.4-billion Rainy Day Fund, closing tax loopholes and raising taxes to balance the budget rather than simply cutting more in other areas. “There’s no way to say, ‘Don’t cut Health and Human Services, put it on public schools, or don’t cut public schools, put it on the courts,’ because everything in the budget’s cut,” Dunkelburg said.

Election 2010

If elected as state attorney general, Houston lawyer Barbara Ann Radnofsky, a Democrat, promises to sue Wall Street firms. But Republican incumbent Greg Abbott is already involved in a suit against the federal government over individual mandates in the national health care reform law.

Like many other Republican candidates this election cycle, Abbott is seeking to make regulations and Washington, D.C., mandates central to the campaign, while also talking about border security and sexual crimes. The two-term attorney general leads his Democratic rival 55 to 35 percent in the latest UT/Texas Tribune poll, released Monday.

The attorney general enforces Texas laws and challenges state boards and agencies who do not adhere to them. The office also holds one of five seats on the state legislative redistricting board, a group designated to redraw district lines every decade if the state legislature fails to do so.

Abbott served as district court judge in Harris County and a state Supreme Court justice before reaching the attorney general’s office in 2002. During his two four-year terms, he has focused on protecting families and children through programs such as the Cyber Crimes Unit and the Fugitive Unit. For the November 2010 election, Abbott said he wants to add programs targeting money laundering and other crimes associated with the drug trade.

“I have a proven record of fighting crime, having arrested more criminals than any other attorney general in Texas history,” he said. “This race puts someone with a proven record of fighting against government mandates from Washington, D.C., and myself versus someone who embraces growing government.”

Despite the lead, Democratic candidate Barbara Ann Radnofsky said she remains optimistic that her campaign, which is based on suing Wall Street firms such as AIG for fraud — the true reason for the state’s massive budget shortfalls, she said. Radnofsky said the proposed lawsuit will send billions of dollars back to the state.

“My proposal is not novel nor unusual,” she said. “It’s just Mr. Abbott doesn’t want to do it. While I’m proposing to fight Wall Street, he has filed a number of pointless lawsuits that won’t bring a penny to Texas.”

Abbott also faces opposition from Libertarian candidate Jon Roland, who promises to expand the role of grand juries to include investigation of complaints of local public corruption. Roland said the other candidates are not proposing to do anything about the issue of local corruption, but hopes the future attorney general will bring his agenda forward.

“The main purpose of a candidacy like ours is to shift the direction of public discourse and of public office,” said Roland, who has run against Abbott twice before. “It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about shaping policy. If a third-party candidate gets 5 to 10 percent of the vote, the other two parties are going to be scrambling to adopt their issues.”

Abbott has nearly $9.3 million cash on hand, while Radnofsky has about $354,000. Radnofsky criticized Abbott for accepting donations and later defending the same donors in state lawsuits, claims which Abbott denied.

“It’s a kind of desperate claim you see by the person behind in the polls by 20 percentage points,” he said. “They just cast lies about their opponents, and that’s the kind of situation that she’s in.”

Texans for Public Justice research director Andrew Wheat said the majority of Texas politicians do not recuse themselves because of campaign contributions. Texas does not have a high standard for disqualification, he said.

“The problem of course is politicians in our system have two constituencies,” Wheat said. “One is the voters, and arguably the more important one are the people that pay the campaign bills. I haven’t seen him aggressively going after the oil and gas industry, but that’s something that doesn’t happen in this state.”

UT public affairs lecturer Sherri Greenberg said Abbott seemed to have a pretty firm hold on the race in spite of Radnofsky’s accusations.

“First of all, he has the power of incumbency,” she said. “He’s running in a Republican state during a Republican year. He’s had the real advantage on the get go.”