Expert: Medicaid programs still could see cuts

WESLACO — Just hours after efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act were defeated in the U.S. Senate early Friday, a nonprofit organization held a presentation warning of the consequences of repealing the ACA and what to expect going forward.

Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin-based nonprofit, spoke at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council on the latest updates on health care at the federal and state level.

“We’re thrilled that with last night’s vote we’re at least going to get a breather in that discussion,” Dunkelberg said. “But nobody thinks the discussion is over and we’re pretty sure that this president and some members of Congress still want to see cuts to our existing Medicaid program.”

Part of her presentation was making people aware of how the proposed replacement bills would have affected the state.

“Don’t be fooled, you may have been under the impression that it’s only those states that expanded Medicaid that are going to have cuts. That is not the case,” she said. “More than 40 percent of the Medicaid cuts in the Senate’s latest bill, for example, was to existing Medicaid programs, not to the expansion states.”

Some estimates, she said, projected that Texas would lose up to a $1.5 billion annually in federal Medicaid funding.

For reference, Dunkelberg cited the impact of cuts to childhood therapy after Texas lawmakers slashed funding for those services in 2015. Providers of therapy services exited the Early Childhood Intervention program as a result, leaving the Galveston and Hill Country areas without state-funded speech, according to reports.

“That was only a $171 million-a-year cut; imagine what the loss of a billion-and-a-half dollars does,” she said.

Even though the ACA remains the law of the land for now, instability surrounds the insurance marketplaces since President Donald Trump has declined to guarantee subsidy payments to insurers.

Without the subsidies, estimated at $7 billion a year, insurers would either charge much more for coverage, or decide not to offer coverage at all.

Texas might see more cuts in its services that are funded by Medicaid after the Texas House of Representatives proposed a cut of $2.4 billion to the program.

“It was really important that people understand everything that’s been at stake in this fight over the summer,” she said. “Because even though this immediate little drive is done, and we probably have some breathing room, this discussion is not ending.”

The Associated Press and Texas Tribune contributed to this report.

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