"Nuns on the Bus" lobby lawmakers for Medicaid expansion compromise

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on April 17, 2013 at 6:50 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 17 at 7:01 PM

AUSTIN -- Calling themselves the "Nuns on the Bus," dozens of Catholic sisters from across Texas arrived -- by bus -- at the State Capitol Wednesday morning to voice support for expanding Medicaid to more than a million low-income Texans.
 
"We are not here to knock on the doors of your offices so we can rap on your knuckles," said Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger with the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. "Those old rulers are in the trash bins of America. Instead we are here to take up a more difficult task: To knock on the doors of your hearts." 
 
"Jesus said to care for the sick, to care for those who are left and folks at the margins who are low-wage workers," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Washington, D.C. based NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.
 
The Affordable Care Act calls for expanding Medicaid to cover those up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL), raising the maximum eligible income for Medicaid to just under $30,000 for a family of four. Experts estimate the expansion Medicaid would cost Texas around $15 billion over the next ten years, while enabling the state to draw down $100 billion in federal funds.
 
Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) has consistently opposed expansion, calling Medicaid a "broken system." Urging the federal government to release Medicaid funds to Texas in the form of a block grant, Perry argues the state could spend that money more effectively on private market solutions such as assett testing and health savings accounts.
 
"There's a lot of different options," Perry told KVUE in a media conference addressing Medicaid in April. "The problem is that the federal government, either they don't think we're smart enough or they don't trust us."
 
"This is a moral imperative, and that's predominantly why I'm here," Sister J.T. Dwyer of the Daughters of Charity in Austin said Wednesday, arguing leaders should seek compromise. "Medicaid expansion is simply the term that is in the bill. I know that is toxic to many people in this building, but you don't have to call it that. You can get a waiver, you can make your own Texas solution."
 
Finding that solution is the goal of physician and state Rep. John Zerwas (R-Simonton), whose HB 3791 is crafted to find that "Texas solution."
 
"The opportunity I think that is before us is to leverage those federal dollars that come down and match them with our state dollars and go to the market and find reasonable products that could help provide these people insurance," Zerwas explained.
 
The bill aims to open the door for deal-making by giving state leaders room to negotiate with the federal government. Zerwas argues it would still allow leaders to pursue a block grant, while acknowledging the likelihood of the federal government handing Texas a blank check isn't promising.
 
"That's probably not going to happen," said Zerwas. "But it shouldn't stand in the way of us moving towards a solution for this newly-eligible population. Absolutely both things can be done at the same time."

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