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Texas House passes measure to prevent Medicaid expansion

By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas House passed a measure on Tuesday that would prevent the state from expanding its Medicaid program as outlined by President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, notified the Obama administration last summer that his state would not expand Medicaid, and he reiterated his opposition at an April press conference at which he called expansion "foolish."

The House measure, which is an amendment to a Medicaid-related bill, says that state health officials "may not provide medical assistance to any person who would not have been eligible for that assistance" under the criteria already in effect.

The House added the amendment late Monday night, and on Tuesday the amended bill got final approval from the House. A version of the bill without the amendment has already passed the Senate, and now the two chambers must work out differences in their versions of the legislation.

The biennial legislative session will end on Monday.

Representative Jeff Leach, the author of the amendment, said the state could still choose to expand Medicaid, just not without the approval of the Legislature. Medicaid expansion is too big of a decision to be made by the state health and human services commissioner without lawmakers' input, he said.

"That's a dangerous spot for the people of Texas to be in," Leach, a Republican, told his colleagues on Monday night. "Many of us are very wary of Medicaid expansion. We understand there's a problem with uninsureds in Texas. We don't believe that Obamacare is the answer to that."

Opponents of the amendment included Democrats who favor Medicaid expansion as well as Republican Representative John Zerwas, who said he worried that the measure would limit the state's ability to negotiate with the federal government on other health matters.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obama's health care overhaul, but allowed states to opt out of a provision expanding the Medicaid program.

Since then, 26 governors have indicated support for Medicaid expansion and 15 said they are not participating, according to the Advisory Board Company, a consulting firm that is tracking the issue. Five other states are learning toward not participating, one is leaning toward participating and three are pursuing an alternative model, it said.

"Seems to me April Fool's Day is the perfect day to discuss something as foolish as Medicaid expansion," Perry said on April 1. "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."

Democrats have called on Perry to drop his opposition to expanding Medicaid in the state that has the nation's highest percentage of uninsured people. About 24 percent of Texans are uninsured.

(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Scott Malone and Jan Paschal)

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