By Todd Gillman
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst warned this morning that the new federal health care legislation will bust Texas' budget -- saddling state taxpayers with $27 billion in extra costs over the next decade.
"That's an astounding number for us," Dewhurst told the Texas State Society over breakfast, including a half-dozen members of Congress. "We're on the hook for all those folks we've been trying to get to sign up for Medicaid."
Doubling the state's Medicaid rolls, he said, will mean that health care claims an ever-bigger share of the state budget. And that segment has already grown from one-quarter of the budget to one-third in the last seven years.
"Arguably, we have to crowd out public education or higher education to pay for this, or raise taxes," Dewhurst said. " Those are unsustainable numbers. Totally unsustainable."
Backers of the new health care law consider the figures Dewhurst cited wildly inflated.
Texas has 6.1 million uninsured, the most of any state, and leads the nation with roughly 27 percent of adults younger than 65 lacking health insurance.
Health policy analysts say Texas will see a spike in costs, but mainly because until now, it made it so hard to qualify for Medicaid compared to most states.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, working with the Urban Institute, estimates that adding 1.8 million adults to Medicaid will cost Texas $2.6 billion between the years 2014 and 2019, because the federal government will pick up most of the cost.
The estimate Dewhurst cited doesn't take into account that state and local governments will spend less on care for uninsured patients. An aide to Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, who introduced Dewhurst at breakfast, cited Congressional Budget Office projections this afternoon that show Texas would face only $1.4 billion in extra costs this decade due to the expansion of health care.
Dewhurst has been making regular trips to Washington to consult with the state's lobbying arm, the Office of State-Federal Relations, and members of its congressional delegation.
He said he is most concerned about federal health care policy, along with energy proposals that include taxes on carbon emissions to combat climate change. That legislation has stalled, but critics say it would raise energy prices and hurt key sectors of the Texas economy.
"I have never seen so many things going on in Washington that directly affect us, as I have in the last year and a half," Dewhurst said.
Tuesday's breakfast took place at a club for Republican lawmakers a block from the U.S. Capitol. It was hosted by the Texas State Society, a nonpartisan group best known for its Black Tie & Boots inaugural bash every four years.
Dewhurst said he's been getting lobbied by U.S. House members about redistricting. Thanks to rapid population growth relative to most of the country, Texas stands to gain at least three, and perhaps four new U.S. House seats when new Census figures are released early next year. The Legislature will redraw districts -- a process that is always highly partisan.
"I've had Democrats and Republicans come in and says let's split it down the middle, or let's do this or that. I think it's too early," he said. "Realistically, all of us need to look at where the population growth has occurred . I don't think it will be 4-0 Republican, or 0-4 Democrat."