Perry signs Medicaid reform bill

FORT WORTH -- Gov. Rick Perry signed the state's Medicaid reform bill Thursday, which is designed to bring increased healthcare coverage to as many as 200,000 of the state's working poor.

That is a small fraction of Texans without health insurance, but Perry, who was speaking at John Peter Smith Hospital, touted the plan as an important first step.

"It will help encourage personal responsibility," Perry said. "It will promote consumer choice and will provide hundreds of millions of dollars to insure working Texans who are just one terrible illness away from an absolute catastrophe in their personal lives."

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, the sponsor of Senate Bill 10, warned that Medicaid costs are spiraling out of control in Texas. Ten years ago, 14 percent of the state budget was spent on Medicaid. It is now close to 26 percent and was expected to reach 40 percent by 2017.

Medicaid is the federal program administered by states that pays for indigent healthcare. The costs are shared by state and federal governments. Texas is seeking a federal waiver that could bring in $1 billion to create a trust fund that would help the working poor obtain health insurance. Nearly 25 percent of Texans do not have health insurance.

Mike Leavitt, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, traveled with Perry to endorse the legislation, leaving officials confident that the waiver will be approved.

"My hat is off to Texas today and Governor Perry. I do get it, and I get that it was an important day for Texas and an important day for America," Leavitt said.

By the numbers

$17.9 billion: Amount Medicaid costs Texas annually.
*$39.5 billion according to this article

5 million: Number of uninsured Texans.

200,000: Uninsured Texans who could get insurance under this plan.

Highlights of legislation

Creates a fund to cover some healthcare costs and provides money for premiums.

Provides assistance for private insurance enrollment and employer-sponsored plans.

Creates benefit packages for children with special healthcare needs.

Promotes consumer choice through health savings accounts.

Rewards healthy lifestyles with healthcare incentives.