One House Republican wants to create the state Texas health insurance change required by the federal health care overhaul law for fear that the federal government will do it for Texas otherwise. Another has filed a bill that would make his colleague’s efforts — really, those of anyone trying to carry out “Obamacare” in Texas — illegal.
Meanwhile, early versions of the Republican-written state budget include cost-saving pilot programs like changes in medical payments, with little mention that they are key components of the much-maligned federal law.
It is an uncomfortable balancing act: Texas Republican lawmakers hate few things more than the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the overhaul that became law in March. But even as the state pursues a suit attacking the law’s constitutionality, and Gov. Rick Perry and other top Republican politicians assault it with the relentless enthusiasm of 9-year-olds hitting a birthday piñata, some state officials are reluctantly laying the groundwork to carry out parts of the law.
“Playing politics is one thing. Hampering the state from moving forward is another entirely,” said Tom Banning, chief executive of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians. “When the health plans, doctors,hospitials and business community get behind them saying, ‘This is something we need to do,’ it gives lawmakers the political cover to defeat the partisan effort not to do anything that touches health care reform.”
Most of the legislation filed so far is an effort to halt the federal health care overhaul in its tracks. Representatives Wayne Christian, Republican of Center, and Ken Paxton, Republican of McKinney, are among lawmakers proposing a state constitutional amendment to preserve Texans’ right to go without health insurance, free of penalty.
Representative Leo Berman, Republican of Tyler, takes it a step further. He has filed a bill to nullify the federal overhaul entirely. Under Mr. Berman’s legislation, any state or federal government official who tries to carry out any aspect of the overhaul law could be charged with a crime — and even face jail time. Mr. Berman said the measure could even apply to Representative John M. Zerwas, the Simonton Republican who has drafted legislation to create a key element of the law, a health insurance exchange.
“We’ll just have to see which one passes,” Mr. Berman said. “The Obamacare bill is unconstitutional and must be declared null and void.”
Mr. Zerwas, a staunch conservative who is also an anesthesiologist, believes Congress exceeded its authority by passing the overhaul bill. But he said that if Texas lawmakers do not design their own health insurance exchange, the federal government would do it for them.
Plus, he said, the proposed Texas Health Insurance Connector, which could operate as a kind of Orbitz for buying health insurance and has the support of the state’s most vocal health care organizations, would be beneficial even if the federal overhaul law is repealed or overturned by the courts.
“In the spirit of our 10th Amendment rights, I don’t want to cede anything to the federal government,” Mr. Zerwas said.