AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Obama administration is open to talks with Texas about expanded health care for the poor, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday, though the state’s top Republicans adamantly refuse to cooperate.
Following a meeting with Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and other Central Texas officials, Sebelius said her office is open to crafting a uniquely Texan plan to make sure everyone has health insurance. She was in Austin and San Antonio to talk about how local communities can take advantage of the Affordable Care Act.
Texas has the nation’s highest rate of people without health insurance — about 6.1 million people — most of them the working poor and single adults. Texas has the option of expanding Medicaid to include those who cannot afford health insurance, but Gov. Rick Perry has rejected all portions of the act and wants Washington to hand over the money with no strings attached so Texas can operate its own program.
“We are eager to have discussions with Texas about a program that could look uniquely Texan, we have a number of state governors and legislators who have fashioned programs around Medicaid expansion that have a lot of flexibility,” Sebelius said. But she said no talks were under way with Texas officials.
Perry and other Republicans leaders say the health care law infringes on personal liberty and violates state sovereignty. Perry has pledged that state government will do nothing to help implement the program, unless specifically required to by law.
The fact that the nation’s second most-populous state is not cooperating represents serious challenges to the Department of Health and Human Services. Sebelius’ visit is aimed at encouraging sympathetic local leaders to help implement the program even if state officials won’t.