by ED STERLING
Nov. 16 was the deadline for Texas and the other states to declare their intentions regarding the formation of health care exchanges, as set forth in the federal Affordable Care Act, referred to by some as “Obama Care.”
Gov. Rick Perry’s declaration came in the form of a Nov. 15 letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“As long as the federal government has the ability to force unknown mandates and costs upon our citizens, while retaining the sole power in approving what an exchange looks like, the notion of a state exchange is merely an illusion,” Perry wrote, adding, “It would not be fiscally responsible to put hard-working Texans on the financial hook for an unknown amount of money to operate a system under rules that have not even been written.”
Perry originally declared his intention not to implement a state exchange or expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in a July letter to Sebelius.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 15, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, filed Senate Bill 84, legislation proposing to create a state health care exchange. The legislation would make it possible for Texas families and individuals who are unable to obtain coverage through their employer to purchase a reasonably priced policy through the exchange.
Ellis said SB 84 “will bring tens of billions of dollars to the state, expand Medicaid to approximately 1.5 million additional Texans, set up a state health insurance exchange that works for Texas and guarantees that the Commissioner of Insurance has the tools necessary to ensure rates are fair and affordable. The expansion of Medicaid costs less in four years than what Texas hospitals spend on the uninsured population in one year. The needs of these individuals will not disappear if we fail to expand Medicaid, but we will lose out on a nine to one match that other states will utilize and we will continue to pass the cost down to local hospitals and ultimately to taxpayers,” Ellis added.
Ellis, in his effort, faces Republican majorities in the state Senate and the state House, as well as the governor’s veto power, should SB 84 pass both Senate and House.
Prediction: busy Texas roads
Texans who travel over the Thanksgiving holiday will have plenty of company on the road, Texas Department of Transportation reported on Nov. 14.
According to TxDOT, results of a reader survey from Texas Highways – the state’s official travel magazine – show “48 percent of Texans plan to travel, and among those, 92 percent said they will be traveling by car on Texas roadways.”
Before setting out, drivers can check road conditions by visiting DriveTexas.org.
Officials call for drug screening
Gov. Perry on Nov. 14 was joined by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, state Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and other Republican lawmakers to call for reforms to the state’s welfare and unemployment benefit programs, including authorizing drug screenings for those applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Unemployment Insurance benefits.
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, pre-filed SB 11 for the upcoming legislative session to require drug screening for temporary assistance program applicants, and Williams, the governor’s office reported, plans to file a bill to require drug screening for unemployment insurance applicants.
A governor’s office news release reported that the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Business joined the officials in a news conference in support of the proposed welfare reforms.
Tax revenue increases again
State sales tax revenue in October was $2.03 billion, up 8.2 percent compared to October 2011, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said Nov. 7.
Combs pointed out that the growth in sales tax revenue continued to be led by collections from the oil and natural gas-related sectors, while strong consumer spending drove gains in retail trade and the restaurant sector.
Combs said she would send November local sales tax allocations totaling $611.5 million to cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts, up 5.4 percent compared to November 2011.
Unemployment figures improve
Texas Workforce Commission on Nov. 16 reported the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.6 percent in October from 6.8 percent in September.
Also, employers added 36,600 total non-farm jobs in October, for a total of 277,400 jobs added in Texas over the year. The national unemployment rate was reported at 7.9 percent.
Ed Sterling works for the Texas Press Association and follows the Legislature for the association.